Fittest loser
Article updated: 5/30/2013 3:17 PM

Gimmicky 'Now You See Me' needs better tricks

Four professional magicians (Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson) get involved in a Robin Hood-like conspiracy of revenge in “Now You See Me.”

Four professional magicians (Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson) get involved in a Robin Hood-like conspiracy of revenge in "Now You See Me."

 
Professional magician J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) keeps his cards close to his vest in "Now You See Me."

Professional magician J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) keeps his cards close to his vest in "Now You See Me."

 
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The true magicians behind the curtain in Louis Leterrier's mystery thriller "Now You See Me" are cinematographers Larry Fong and Mitchell Amundsen.

Every frame in "Now You See Me" is a study in visual momentum as their rushing, swishing, swooping, looping camera lenses keep our eyes constantly engaged, distracting us from its deficit characters, digital sleight-of-hand tricks and sleight-of-brain plotting.

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"Now You See Me"

★ ★
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Other: A Lionsgate Films release. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations, violence. 116 minutes

The ploy, like the movie itself, almost works.

"Now You See Me" is a promising mix of a heist tale, suspense mystery, revenge opus and Robin Hood story all about four daring, professional magicians, two of whom actually possess personalities.

As J. Daniel Atlas, Jesse Eisenberg continues to recycle his obnoxiously smart and cynical Mark Zuckerbergian personality left over from "The Social Network."

Woody Harrelson brings creepy charisma to mentalist Merrit McKinney, a sleazebag who employs his observation, intuition and deductive skills to shake down unfaithful husbands for chump change.

Henley Reeves, played by Isla Fisher, doesn't have much to do or say, but she's cute.

Actor Dave Franco completes the quartet as Jack Wilder, a nebulous character whose major talent is plot-twisting on command.

These former competitors are invited to a strange, locked apartment by an unknown host who calls them together to create the ultimate Vegas nightclub magic act: "The Four Horsemen." (Apparently, the politically correct "The Four Horsepeople" didn't score well on marketing focus groups.)

They become big stars, sponsored and financed by insurance mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).

For their big finale, the Four Horsemen pull off the seemingly impossible: They put an audience member in a teleportation device, send him into a French bank vault and let him steal millions while a camera on the man's headgear records everything.

How did they do that?

Interpol sends a polished agent named Alma Drey (Melanie Laurent) to investigate. The FBI sends scruffy special agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate.

But they can't find any crimes to charge the Four Horsemen with, not without sounding crazy.

Wait!

Spoilsport magic-trick debunker and reality TV star Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) figures it all out and explains the trick to Drey and Rhodes.

"The bank was the distraction," Bradley mellifluously intones, "while they set up the real trick!"

The real trick here is how "Now You See Me" -- directed by the French filmmaker who gave us the "Transporter" action films and the anemic "Clash of the Titans" remake -- sets us up for a profound payoff, but delivers an outrageously ridiculous reveal that leaves us, like the victims of Harrelson's mentalist, feeling like chumps.

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