Thursday, June 6, 2013

Didn't Get Around to Watching "Now You See Me"? No Big Deal. Watch "The Prestige" Again Instead.

Directed by Louis Leterrier, written by Ed Solomon, and Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt, starring Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine - Rated PG-13

Pretty much completely indifferent on this one.
Movies about magic are not exactly a subgenre just yet, but it’s getting close.  Previous films in recent memory like The Prestige and The Illusionist were all about a mystery that the audience had to look for.  In the case of The Prestige you have Michael Caine flat out talking to you about looking closely.  I suppose it’s fitting that Caine also appears in Now You See Me, the latest mystery magician film in which the audience is dared to look closely and figure it out (once again, the audience is directly addressed).  I consider “The Prestige” to be one of the finest and most engaging films of the past decade (I was not a fan of The Illusionist), so Now You See Me has some big shoes to fill.  In an unfair comparison to The Prestige, Now You See Me does not hold up very well.  But as a piece of forgetful entertainment, it gets the job done.
First off, it’s unfair to compare the two magician movies because Now You See Me has a much more light-hearted tone than that film.  This isn’t a film that is truly about magic.  In other words, you don’t get to see a lot of tricks painstakingly planned out and explained.  There is a little of that, but for the most part the audience is left completely in the dark and we’re told how it all worked after the fact.  I suppose that’s fine and all, but the film seemed to be cheating at times.  The viewer doesn’t really have the chance to think the film through because the evidence is limited.  We’re reduced to simply guessing who is behind it all.  It’s still interesting enough to stay involved and want to know the answer, but it’s not as satisfying as it could have been.
Part of the problem of the film is that it seems unsure of who the main characters are.  I know that this is part of the point what with misdirection and all, but the film suffers for it.  The basic plot involves four street magicians played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson.  We’re introduced to them individually, and it seems like they are the protagonists (the preview would lead you to believe this as well).  But once they are brought together, we leave them, for the most part.  Once they are brought together and named the Four Horsemen (is Isla Fisher a man?), the film becomes a detective story told from Mark Ruffalo’s perspective as he (and the audience) tries to figure out who’s behind it all. 
The detective gets involved because the magicians turn criminal when they rob a bank as part of their big Las Vegas show, promising that it’s just the beginning.  It’s really the beginning of this movie becoming less interesting.  Ruffalo’s detective is so cliché and boring that you just want to see what the magicians are up to, but we rarely get to see things from their perspective.  This is a problem because it’s not as if the movie never follows these characters…it started with these characters!  So the rules of the film allow the camera to be with these guys as they plan their act and whatnot, but it chooses not to show us because the filmmakers probably couldn’t think of anything interesting for them to do. 
I think the film would have been better if we just got to know the tricks and illusions as the magicians came up with them.  The tricks are not so amazing that the mystery is worth it anyway.  Instead of this turning into a cops and robbers story, it would’ve been an interesting film about magicians figuring out how to perform cool tricks, and we would still have to figure out who the benefactor is.  It’s a win-win.  Such a missed opportunity…
Despite that major gripe, the movie’s worth a watch when it comes out on HBO or something.  It’s filmed adequately and the performances are sufficient.  It’s a slightly fun magician movie.  It wants to be a mindbender, but the focus and the mystery were lacking.  I think I’ll go watch The Prestige for the twentieth time now…
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
I wasn't kidding at the end there.  I am actually watching The Prestige again as I post this.  And speaking of that film, it's not that I wanted Now You See Me to be just like that film.  That would be pointless.  If anything, the fact that this film tried to mimic a "twist" like The Prestige had is what limits it.  So it's actually too much like The Prestige.
As for the "twist" ending, it is only effective in that it makes Ruffalo's character make a bit more sense.  He's really only playing at being a cop.  Although he probably had to be a real cop for the misdirection to truly work.  What dedication...  The movie isn't worth watching again to check for all the tell-tale signs, but looking back it makes the film seem that much more deceitful.  There were a few moments when Ruffalo was the only guy in the scene yet he kept up the act.  I get that it shows total devotion to the illusion, but I just don't buy it. 
Kind of harsh on Morgan Freeman, by the way, isn't he?  So Freeman exposes his father as a weak magician, which goads Ruffalo's father to perform a trick that proves without a doubt that he's a weak magician.  (Or at least an unlucky magician that picks a safe that is too crappy for a trick?  I wasn't quite clear on the safe problem, I was ready for the movie to be over at that point.)  Why is this Freeman's fault?  I get that without Freeman's action, Ruffalo's dad wouldn't have tried it, but it's not like Freeman challenged him to do it.  This line of thinking would lead someone to blaming a car company a for fatal car wreck even if the driver was at fault.  Let's hope no other bad things happen to Ruffalo's loved ones...who knows how far he'll expand the blame.

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