The film begins by following four promising street magicians — Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) — as they join together to create a traveling magic act. After a year of preparation, the team members, who call themselves the Four Horsemen, begin a series of marvelous magical acts across the country.
The Horsemen start in Las Vegas, where they invite an audience member to rob a Parisian bank using a teleportation device. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) are assigned to investigate the crime within hours, detaining and releasing the Horsemen when they realize their lack of evidence. In addition to the agents, the Horsemen are followed by Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a former magician who attempts to reveal other magicians’ secrets.
The Horsemen then travel to New Orleans and New York, where they perform two more feats involving money and are consistently followed by Rhodes, Dray and Bradley. The story line continues to meander along urban streets, adding twists at every turn; in New Orleans, the magicians empty a bank account and distribute it to the audience, while in New York, they end with a grand finale at 5 Pointz, a graffiti exhibit on top of a building.
The magicians themselves are a charming quartet. Daniel Atlas is a conceited card-trick illusionist, while Merritt McKinney is a sly mentalist and hypnotist. With pickpocket Jack Wilder and acrobatic gymnast Henley Reeves as well, the team is versatile and savvy. The members complement each other, and the scenes featuring the magicians either on stage or planning their act are the more engaging scenes of the movie.
The agents, on the other hand, are not quite as amusing. Rhodes is gruff and unlikable throughout most of the movie, and he regards Dray as more of an assistant than a partner. Dray spends most of the time studying the techniques behind famous magicians. Their inevitable romantic tensions seem more forced than natural as a result.
The plot itself is clever, though a bit absurd in its continual twists; there are story lines left with inconclusive endings. My main complaint is that the camera is all too often focused on Rhodes and Dray instead of the magicians, who are far more glamorous and entertaining than the frustrated FBI agent and his French sidekick. Finally, I would have liked to have seen Henley Reeves with more speaking time since Isla Fisher is a fantastic actress.
Personal grievances and plot holes aside, “Now You See Me” is glittery, thrilling and, dare I say, spellbinding. Director Louis Leterrier, director of “Clash of the Titans” and “The Incredible Hulk,” focuses largely on the mysterious benefactor of the Horsemen as well as the nature of magic and belief in magic. Frequent convincing special effects and a star-studded cast make it all the better.
If you can overlook its faulty plot and shallow themes, “Now You See Me” is a fun, frivolous film with a hypnotizing adventure that proves nothing is truly as it seems.
“Now You See Me” is rated PG-13 and runs 116 minutes.