So many directors these days seem to want to be Christopher Nolan: There’s Zack Snyder aiming for “Dark Knight” portentousness with “Man of Steel” and Danny Boyle aping the false-reality trickiness of “Inception” with “Trance” to name but two. The latest wannabe is French director-gone-Hollywood Louis Leterrier (“Clash of the Titans”) with “Now You See Me,” which aims to be a Vegas-magician version of “The Prestige.”
Like most things Vegas, it’s all flash and precious little substance, despite a decent cast who try their best. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco play a supergroup of magicians known as The Four Horsemen, assembled by a mysterious fifth figure for unknown purposes. J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) is an egomaniac prestidigitator, Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) a cynical “mentalist” who specializes in hypnosis, while Jack Wilder (Franco) is a fleet-fingered pickpocket — and since when did that classify as “magic”? — and Henley Reeves (Fisher) is an escape artist who specializes in rattling the cage of her former boyfriend Atlas. The sponsor of their elaborate Vegas production is a billionaire played by Michael Caine, while Morgan Freeman shows up as a relentless magic debunker; both actors were in all three of Nolan’s Batman movies.
The Four Horsemen’s stage show involves teleporting a member of the audience into a bank vault in Paris, and then bringing him back while showering a rain of purloined money onto the show’s audience; it turns out that the money was in fact stolen, but how? The FBI, led by a shambling Mark Ruffalo doing his best Peter Falk/Columbo imitation, get on the trail of the Horsemen, assisted by Melanie Laurent’s far more capable Interpol agent, and it doesn’t take a mentalist to predict that their initial head-butting will eventually lead to romance.
Here it falls apart, simply because the bank-robbery trick is so impossible that they may as well have put a few X-Men up on the stage and had them pull it off via invisibility, telepathy and wall-crawling. The idea that the film is about reality-based illusionists working actual heists through inspired trickery falls completely in favor of tricks that are only possible through movie CGI, which is entirely contrary to the promise of magic — that someone can actually fool you into believing the impossible. “The closer you look, the less you see” is the movie’s tagline, as well as Atlas’ mantra regarding magic tricks, but “Now You See Me” never allows us the chance to look closely, simply withholding information until it dumps it all on us in a last reel full of implausible revelations.
About the only fun is the constant needling between Eisenberg and Harrelson, who carry over their bickering rapport from “Zombieland” where they previously co-starred. Leterrier, as one might expect from the director of “Transporter 2,” eventually tires of the magic angle and decides it isn’t really a movie without some pretty average chase scenes, which I guess is easier than including any sort of motive for why the Horsemen choose to mess with the Feds and risk jail. Simply motiveless storytelling. Now you see it? No, you don’t.
For a chance to win one of three “Now You See Me” T-shirts (M), visit jtimes.jp/film.