Sunday, 29 September 2013

"First rule of magic: always be the smartest person in the room."

The joy of a really good magic trick is not in the genuine belief that someone has made, for example, the Statue Of Liberty disappear, but in knowing that they have outsmarted you in a way so fiendish and unfathomable that all you can do is applaud and gawp. It's the reason why we ask ourselves, "How did they do that?" Because we know there is a rational explanation, it's just our simple non-illusionist brains are incapable of finding it. Now You See Me forgets this important part of the deal and so ends a fun show with a big puff of smoke and a reveal that induces groans not gasps.

The set-up is arguably Ocean's Eleven with street magicians (only there are four of them). A close-up prestidigitator (Jesse Eisenberg), a mind reader (Woody Harrelson), an escape artist (Isla Fisher) and a pickpocket with aspirations (Dave Franco), are brought together by a mysterious benefactor and given an apparently limitless budget to put on spectacular magic shows which they use to first rob a bank and then a person, in plain sight. The cops, in particular prickly FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), can bring them in but ultimately can't make it stick because you can't arrest someone for immoral wizardry. The fun is both in the elaborate razzle-dazzle of the set pieces and the simple explanations of how they were done, thanks to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a professional trick debunker whom the cops bring onto the case. 

For a long stretch it's a giddy eye-popping ride. Magicians as criminals is a marvellous conceit and Louis Leterrier (Clash Of The Titans) gets a great deal of entertainment out of it, enjoying all the toys and revelling in the fact he can throw in an extended fight scene involving disappearing tricks and playing cards as weapons, and all the time have the sequence make perfect sense. It also doesn't hurt that it's played out by a cast with very different, entirely complementary skills. The main four are an unusual combination but one that sparks. More of their snappy interaction as the plot progresses would not have gone amiss. Their characters seemingly getting lost in their own story.

Yet as any magic show must, it builds to a big crescendo and promises to go beyond anything you could possibly imagine. In a sense it does, but only because its two big reveals are alternately completely improbable and a cheat of its own rules. There is no prestige. The flowers up its sleeve have wilted and the rabbit in its hat has died. You'll like it (not a lot).

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