Sunday 3 July 2016

From the archive: "Now You See Me"

The big sleeper hit of summer 2013 - by which I mean the one movie making a fortune last summer that wasn't a sequel, or based on some other, pre-existing property - was a caper movie affixed with the resistible slickness of American stage and street magicians. Boy, is Now You See Me slick: as directed by Louis Leterrier - an action maven who's enjoyed a run of solid hits without ever coming close to developing a recognisable style - this flimsy yarn of four illusionists being jetted across country to commit a series of heists at the behest of a mysterious benefactor makes the Ocean's Eleven revivals like primitive cave paintings. There is, granted, a relentless momentum to it that might just sweep you along, if you were sitting there with brain firmly in neutral at the end of a long working week: a Steadicam chase through a New Orleans restaurant reprises the tactics of Leterrier's Jet Li vehicle Unleashed, and sets more cars a-flipping than, say, The Prestige ever did. But where the Nolan film took its trickery seriously on some level, Leterrier's speed is just a cheat, a way of shuttling us past the implausibility of what it's describing, and obscuring whatever (already fuzzy) logic is at play here. 

It cannot, however, get us to overlook the project's towering cynicism. We're meant to cheer these smugly bickering illusionists only because they're ripping off some bankers; their attitude as performers - you can pull in a big crowd if you're prepared to throw enough money at them - rather mirrors the producers' attitude to their own audience. So it is that a quadrant-covering cast occupies centre stage, although there's no real reason for Mark Ruffalo, playing perpetual catch-up as the FBI agent working the case, to be here, other than to cover whatever mortgage payments weren't already covered by the Avengers movie. (The presence of Michael Caine among the supporting players suggests a good deal of property tax was covered on this one.) It's another big, blaring American feature to revolve around the acquisition of money, the magic being but one means to that end, tricking us into the cinema just as the male magicians continually beguile their way into the opposite sex's undergarments. Early on, we see Jesse Eisenberg (not an actor you'd immediately cast as a practised womaniser, which occasions one of his least convincing performances) achieving one such conquest via a Dynamo-Dave Blaineish spot of cardshuffling, cautioning his mark with the line "the closer you look, the less you see". This throwaway film's rewards are of the shallow variety - which is why, unlike The Prestige, it barely merits watching once - but it's at least smart enough to have written its own best review.

(March 2014)

Now You See Me is available on DVD through Entertainment One; a sequel, Now You See Me 2, opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow.

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