Now You See Me-680
Photo by Barry Wetcher, SMPSP - © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC.

This exhausting film harps on the magician’s ultimate trick, misdirection. That word describes the very nature of Now You See Me, which purports to tell a clever story when all it’s doing is whirling in an endless spiral.  (That spinning is literal as well as figurative: I actually felt woozy as a result of the camera’s endless swooping and swirling.) So what is it about? That’s hard to say; the three credited screenwriters might have differing views on the subject. I don’t even know if Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt worked together on this patchwork script.

As the movie opens, we meet street magician Jesse Eisenberg, shady mentalist Woody Harrelson, daring stage magician Isla Fisher, and slick con artist Dave Franco. They are all summoned to a Brooklyn apartment by a mystery figure; the next thing we know they’re performing together in Vegas under the sponsorship of fat cat Michael Caine…and under scrutiny from magic debunker Morgan Freeman. Then an apparent bank robbery puts FBI agent Mark Ruffalo and Interpol detective Mélanie Laurent on their case. The four delight in fooling and frustrating this law-enforcement pair and lead them on a merry chase to New Orleans and New York City. Along the way there are multiple chases, surprises, and near-misses.

Morgan Freeman-680
Photo by Barry Wetcher, SMPSP - © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC.

The characters are sketchily drawn, so the success of this film depends almost entirely on the storytelling, which is exceptionally cluttered. What annoys me most is that the film doesn’t trust bona fide stage magic and repeatedly sets up impossible “tricks” and situations. As it turns out, that’s just a prelude to the final, ultimate reveal, which is stupendously bogus.

It’s a crime to waste so much talent on this piffle. Director Louis Leterrier is a supposed action expert, but all he proves here is that he knows how to induce vertigo in an unsuspecting viewer.

A good magician doesn’t just perform tricks; he casts a spell. This annoying movie never pulls off that particular feat.