Everything appears to be an illusion in Louis Leterrier’s (The Transporter, Clash of the Titans) Now You See Me with magic, or the suggestion of magic, suffusing the whole film.
That the art of magic and illusion is the centrepiece of this fast-paced highly enjoyable crime caper is made very clear from the word go with each of the magicians who end up as The Four Horsemen, drawn together by a mysterious hooded figure with the aim of staging three high profile shows in Las Vegas, New Orleans and New York, shown practising their various crafts to their own highly appreciative niche audiences.
J Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network) is a talented street artist with control issues, who makes his living entertaining crowds with elaborate card tricks, one of which finishes with the card secretly selected by an audience member lighting up a nearby skyscraper to awestruck whoops and hollers.
It’s a neat line of work that garners him all the girls and attention he could want, which is a not inconsiderable amount since his ego is almost as big as the buildings he uses as his theatrical backdrop.
His former assistant, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher, The Great Gatsby), an escape artist whose glamorous sexuality is almost as big as a drawcard for her largely male audience as her ability to escape any and all padlocked boxes, with or without flesh-eating piranhas, has escaped the Svengali-hold of her former boss to build a thriving career of her own, only to hold on to a twisted mix of attraction and contempt for him.
Mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland) is a cheeky mentalist, a man skilled at using the power of suggestion and hypnosis to fleece people of money, albeit while righting wrongs where he can (while still keeping the cash for himself naturally).
Once a powerhouse performer with a stellar career, he is now a shadow of his former self not that you would guess that from his charmingly cocky demeanour.
And finally there’s Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, 21 Jump Street), a street magician who seems to have more skill in perpetrating petty larceny than successfully pulling off magic tricks.
Although again that’s all an illusion since it is his apparent inability to practise his magic that draws in the very people he then robs.
So the magic is on display in a big way from the word go, ramping up considerably when all four magicians are drawn to a dingy apartment by a mysterious unseen man who never reveals his agenda while still managing to convince these four disparate people to join together and put on three spectacular shows, all of which involve some form of Robin Hood-esque criminal activity.
That there is some form of underlying revenge at play becomes clear reasonably early but quite what the end game is isn’t clear since every time you think you know who the ultimate victim is – is it Michael Caine’s filthy rich entrepreneur whose money is taken by the now famous four to be redistributed to unfortunate people whose insurance claims went unpaid by his company after Hurricane Katrina or the man seeking to unmask them , magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman)?
Or is it even FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his Interpol-assigned partner Alma Dray, who despite tracking the celebrity magicians from gig to ever more spectacular gig with inspired efficiency seem manifestly unable to uncover the true nature of their activities and bring them to account?
Frankly as the movie goes on and everything from a secret magicians society (The Eye) to a magician lost at the bottom of the East River in a failed safe escape trick (Lionel Shrike) to conjecture over the identity of the Fifth Horseman is introduced, who is doing what to whom becomes less important than the on rushing momentum of spectacularly impressive action.
It is not mindless action by any stretch, with an underlying cleverness and sense of fun injected by Leterrier that elevates the movie over a thousand other frothy Hollywood confections, keeping you watching even after it’s obvious there are plot holes large enough to disappear a truck full of cash (or it that toy balloons?) through.
You simply don’t care about the implausibilities and the wild leaps, and the insane plot twists because the whole movie is just so much FUN.
Yes there is a reason for the whole grand adventure which in true Scooby Doo-esque fashion is revealed at the end, but that is almost secondary to the heady candy rush of joyously illogical tricks, quip-laden dialogue, unexpected plot twists and sleights of hand, both magical and otherwise, that dot the movie and make it an absolute joy to watch.
I left the theatre with a great big smile on my face, reminded once again that not every movie has to be deeply meaningful or polemic or a worthy dissertation on the human condition.
Sometimes, and especially when it’s done as well as Now You See Me, it’s totally fine to simply immerse yourself in the dazzling madness and be entertained.