In telling a complicated story, writers should not have characters act in ways that are contrary to their own best interests. This is true even when a surprise ending requires that the characters’ interests are different than what we might expect.
Perhaps I should make a Spoiler Alert before giving an example. In Agatha Christie’s long-running play, “The Mousetrap,” the audience discovers fairly late which of the characters is the murderer. But ticket-holders should not be able to go back over the play’s events and find things that killer character has done that are inconsistent with his or her hidden motivations.
This is the problem for the new movie “Now You See Me.” Its director, Louis Leterrier, has been responsible for two Transporter movies and re-makes of “The Incredible Hulk” and “Clash of the Titans”—the version in which poor Liam Neeson has to call out the immortal movie line, “Release the Kracken!” Perhaps despite his history as a director, Leterrier has assembled a big name cast for “Now You See Me.”
Among them are Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Brain tumor survivor and generally-liked movie veteran Mark Ruffalo plays the Las Vegas detective trying to keep pace with the stage-magician bank robbers calling themselves The Four Horsemen.
These abracadabrans are played by Jesse Eisenberg, who starred as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco (younger brother of James), and Isla Fisher. The versatile Fisher, who is married to Sacha Baron Cohen, made what I suspect will be a career-changing appearance as Mrs. Wilson in this year’s “The Great Gatsby.” French actress Mélanie Laurent is thrown in gratis with this all-star cast.
So is some over-blown Brian Tyler music that always seems to be insisting that we’ve reached the peak of the action, even in the first half hour of the movie.
“Now You See Me” plays with point of view. We see early action as if we were with the magicians. For much of the film, we follow the police investigation. Sometimes we’ll be led off to see scenes, though, that detectives Rhodes (Ruffalo) and Dray (Laurent) aren’t around for.
To begin the story, the wand wavers are all successful performing on city streets or in rough performance spaces. They are lured, in a fashion that challenges belief, to a New York apartment where they find the plans for a series of big-scale tricks, and then they somehow support themselves for a year as they get everything ready to perform these illusions.
The first one has them calling a Frenchman onto a Las Vegas stage. They seem to send him to the vault of his Paris bank where he starts a fan which blows huge stacks of currency into the Nevada showroom. Interpol sends Dray to Vegas where she meets up with Rhodes, whose credentials apparently give him national jurisdiction.
Also interested are an insurance company magnate (Caine) who is producing the shows and a smug magic debunker (Freeman).
Everyone decamps to New Orleans and later to New York City for additional magic shows. In the first the Horsemen steal from Caine’s bank account—this isn’t particularly visual. In the second, after a series of tricks far more complicated than required by their scheme, the prestidigitationites litter profusely in some portion of the city—and in the process get back at Freeman.
Ruffalo is good company, and this movie needs him. Without his performance, it is only a weak but complicated story advanced largely by tricking the audience, by allowing characters to do things contrary to their own real interests. As the film stands, it still probably isn’t entertaining enough to be worth the two hours it will take to watch it.