A film which proves the theory that if magicians were also bankrobbers, they'd still be pretty stupid.
The legendary escapologist Harry Houdini once said: "no performer should attempt to bite off red-hot iron unless he has a good set of teeth." Speaking of which, here comes chintzy heist caper Now You See Me, the latest opus from Clash of the Titans auteur Louis Leterrier. Dentally speaking, it's not quite the Hollywood equivalent of root canal, though the wonky screenplay would certainly benefit from a few strategic fillings.
Could it be magic? Well, maybe, providing your idea of hocus pocus is a hyperactive, science fiction version of Ocean's Eleven with surplus Burt Wonderstone kitsch. What's more, this sleek, well-groomed thriller feels only marginally less camp than a night on the tiles with Siegfried and Roy.
The film's lean concept (magicians do heists) is killer, though Leterrier and his Magic Circle of screenwriters sacrifice any real mystery for cheap thrills and propulsive spectacle. It's an enigma trapped inside a two-hour car chase.
In principle, at least, it's a banker. A motley band of four loosely-connected magicians are assembled by a mysterious benefactor in order to pull off the greatest trick the world has ever seen. Fast forward one year, and the so-called "Four Horsemen" (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) take to the stage in Las Vegas, inviting a randomly selected member of the audience to help them bring down a Paris bank.
Is it magic? Is it theft? And what are they planning next? FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, channelling some of his ramshackle Zodiac charm) recruits professional debunker Thaddeus Brown (Morgan Freeman) to investigate.
The starry cast play to their strengths. Jesse Eisenberg here gives the usual Jesse Eisenberg performance except with added shininess and an A-grade haircut. The upgrade is significant. Rather than play to type as the socially awkward nerd who struggles to make human connections, he's now a socially awkward nerd who gets laid on a regular basis. He's like Dynamo if Dynamo played World Of Warcraft and spent his weekends doing code. The Las Vegas sheen suits him.
As a grifter with a gift for mentalism, Woody Harrelson secretes an oily charm. He's pretty much a stalwart these days, a pleasingly erratic, twitchy presence in an otherwise straight-laced world. And as token woman-with-a-skill, the likeable Isla Fisher gets some actual stuff to do, albeit in the context of a failed relationship with the scoundrel Eisenberg.
Still, Fisher's character does have a few tricks up her spangly sleeve. In one particularly deranged sequence, she blows bubbles on stage only to magically appear floating inside said bubbles on the other side of the theatre. As illusions go, it's impossible piffle, but the whole thing is so well executed you almost want to applaud. The rest of the film follows suit. Leterrier may well come on like some kind of low-rent Luc Besson, but he sure knows how to saw the screen in half.
Impressively, Now You See Me manages to hold out an awful long time before revealing its secrets. What a shame, then, that the final flourish never quite matches all the preceding effort. It'll definitely pull the wool over your eyes, though you may want to gouge them out by the time the credits roll.
Magicians. Will. Heist.
Alakazam! A fast and furious bamboozler that cranks up the camp.
You know the “rabbit in a hat” trick? What we have here is a dead rabbit.