Friday, June 7, 2013

Now You See Me

Get out your playing cards and magic scarves, we're watching Now You See Me!

Four street magicians, calling themselves "The Four Horsemen" rob a bank as a magic trick, but no one can figure out how they did it. FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and professional magic debunker Thadeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) chase them around the world trying to stop them.

I was hoping this was more The Prestige but it turned out to be more like The Illusionist.

Oh, you want more of a review than that? Okay, fine.

It's really not that good.

I wish it was better. The whole "magicians do a trick and maybe it's real and maybe it's not" is not a very cool sounding premise. It feels like it's been done (because it has), and there are one of two options that it can turn out to be: It's real, or it's not. "Magicians using magic to fight the FBI and steal stuff and avenge the little people," now THAT'S a movie I can get behind! And if that had been the whole movie – if it was just magicians using magic to fight people – THAT would have been amazing. There's one good magic fight where that actually happens, but the rest of the movie is pretty dull in comparison.

When you have a movie with magic based entirely around asking the questions "Is it real or not?" and "How did they do it?" you are automatically putting your audience in a questioning mood. Even if they aren't consciously asking themselves those questions (And if you DID ask them you can be damn well sure they are), they will be subconsciously putting together scenarios to explain everything as the movie goes on. That's what we're programmed to do. We find a puzzle, we try to figure out how to solve it. So, 9 times out of 10, any explanation for whether or not it's real, and how they did it, will be disappointing, because we are expecting an answer.

Once it gets going, things are pretty easy to spot, and it's not that hard to see what's coming. There's a big mystery of who's setting all this up, and even if you didn't guess who it really was, it doesn't come as a huge gasping surprise, but instead as a soft, "Oh. Huh." Because you knew that person was a possibility in the back of your mind and the movie just assured you with it. And with the big mystery person revealed, it completely erases any of the story or character brought on by that person before they were revealed to be who they really were. You feel lied to; your time feels wasted. “Why did I bother to care about this character and spend all this time watching them grow if you were just going to erase all the growth they went through?” That's a lousy trick.

Even with those big questions ruined, it's a good cast that has fun in their roles. So much so that I wish the movie had spent more time with them. There's real chemistry between the four magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco) and they always have fun interactions with each other. Each of their characters has a fun backstory, and I like how they have their own specialty. Eisenberg is the suave huckster, Harrelson is a reader/hypnotizer, Fisher represents the pretty assistants doing dangerous stunts, and Franco is the master of slight-of-hand. Unfortunately, there's an unwritten rule in fiction that the only way a heist can be done successfully is if the audience doesn't know how it's done, so instead of seeing the magicians go through the acts from their perspectives and mess up, we mostly focus on Ruffalo's Agent Rhodes trying to catch them after the fact. And Rhodes isn't a bad character… well… yeah, he kind of is. He's an annoying skeptic because they need a skeptic, and there's a romance between him and his new French partner, because of reasons. And man does that romance feel forced. But however original his character could have been written, he's not a cool magic-fighting magician.

Think of how cool it could have been if it was a heist movie of watching magicians use magic tricks to rob stuff and fight people. Hypnotizing guards, slight-of-hand-ing keys, fighting cops with flash-bangs and cards and doing dangerous, death-defying stunts while popping up somewhere safe all the while bickering like conceited children. THAT is a movie I want to see. THAT sounds like a super fun magician movie that hasn't been done before. This movie is not that.

Most of the movie is watching The Four Horsemen set up a show and explain that they're going to do a trick. This is followed by about five seconds of them actually doing it. Then you get an hour explaining how they did it. It’s really not that exciting. There's so much explanation and exposition, and all I really want is to see stuff happening. The worst of this is the cinematography The. Camera. Will. Not. Stop. SPINNING. If you have a major problem with motion sickness, with fast camera movements or shaky cam, do not watch this movie. It is 95% rotating counter-clockwise and 5% stability. I don't even know why. Did someone think it was cool once and then just kept doing it? Did they not know how to frame a shot? Did they watch too many Cirque Du Soleil TV specials? The music isn’t great, either.

But hey, this is a movie with Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Common. That’s something.

It’s not the best magic action movie, by any means. (That would still be The Prestige with David Bowie, thank you very much) There's still some fun to be had, though, with a great cast and some magic action.
  • THE GOOD: A cool magic fight scene, some cool-looking magic effects, great cast, fun dialogue with lots of chemistry.
  • THE BAD: TOO. MUCH. SPINNING. weak soundtrack, too much explaining, too predictable, not enough misdirection, not enough of the magicians, not enough magic fighting.
  • THE VERDICT: $$$ Maybe see it for the good cast and that one fight scene, maybe wait until it's on Netflix or Youtube.
  • MOVIES LIKE IT: The Illusionist, The Illusionist (animation), The Prestige, Boondock Saints, Oceans 12
  • ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Harrelson hypnotizes a whole slew of audience members into thinking that they're football players that need to tackle the quarterback. Gee, you think that will come up later when they're trying to get away from the FBI agent? Harrelson even makes the trigger word "Freeze," which you’d think said-FBI-agent would have made a note of, and not said it, but nope! Dumb as a box of playing cards. Now, think how cool that would have been if that were used to hypnotize guards to tackle other guards? C'est la vie.

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