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Movie lacks magic touch

"Now You See Me" tries too hard to dazzle with flashy visual effects and an odd cadre of con artists

By McClatchy News Services

LAST UPDATED: 1:52 a.m. HST, May 31, 2013

There's a great movie out now about magicians, sleight-of-hand maestros, illusionists, card and coin tricksters.

"Now You See Me" is not that movie.

If you're so inclined, check out "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay," a wonderful and illuminating documentary about the veteran prestidigitator. It's playing in select theaters (but not in Honolulu yet), and will no doubt be available on DVD and VOD.

Rated: PG-13
Opens today

As for "Now You See Me," it's a slick and kind of smirky entertainment in which a quartet of street charlatans-turned-Las Vegas stars pull off an epic heist using the tricks of the magic trade. But where a deft magic act turns on the performer's ability to make the impossible appear completely real (after all, you've just witnessed it happening right in front of you), in Louis Leterrier's film, the presto change-o business is done with mirrors, so to speak, and with a flashy whirl of visual effects that undermines the experience rather than enhances it.

The movie wants to be "Ocean's Eleven" with top hats and wands, but the rapport between the principals of "Now You See Me" doesn't come close to approximating Clooney and company's (or Sinatra and company's) cool. Instead, we get Jesse Eisenberg, tightly wound and talky as J. Daniel Atlas, a cocky card and coin hustler who finds himself banding together with three other characters: Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), who does Houdini-like escapes; Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a mentalist; and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), a pickpocket. Assembled by a billionaire businessman (Michael Caine), they become a kind of instant supergroup, billed as the Four Horsemen and headlining on the Vegas strip.

Their showstopper: robbing a Paris bank vault — by teleportation — and showering its bounty of bills down on the audience. They're Robin Hoods, these four, bent on redistributing the wealth and making fat cats pay for their greedy ways. And so the FBI, in the person of Mark Ruffalo, is on the case, assisted by an intrepid French Interpol detective (Melanie Laurent). She says, "We are dealing with something far bigger than us" in an accent to die for.

Morgan Freeman, as is his wont lately (see "Oblivion"), shows up to make meaningful pronouncements in a voice that could sell credit cards or gay marriage (he's done ads for both).

He is cast as a kind of professional debunker, and casts a cynical eye on the Four Horsemen and their high-stakes shenanigans.

Leterrier ("Clash of the Titans") thinks himself an action director, and so much of the time "Now You See Me" jettisons all pretense of the illusionary arts to devote its time, its money and its stunt team to high-speed chases and car crashes.

Maybe "Now You See Me" really wants to be "Fast & Furious" with top hats and wands.


Review by Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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