'Now You See Me' - a trick that dissipates

Film: "Now You See Me"; Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Michael Kelly; Director: Louis Leterrier; Rating: **1/2

This star-filled ensemble is director Louis Leterrier's attempt to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

With an alluring premise, "Now You See Me" is about four talented, but down on their luck magicians. They are; a haughty street illusionist - J. Daniel Atlas (Jessie Eisenberg), an escape artist - Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), a disgraced hypnotist - Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and a pick-pocket cum lock opener - Jack Wilder (Dave Franco).

An inexplicable appearance of tarot cards in each one's hands, leads to the quartet being recruited by an anonymous person to perform astonishing tricks. Together, they team up as the four horsemen and capture the world's attention when on their first show, they teleport an audience member into a French bank vault, getting away with 30 million Euros, and showering the bills onto their audience. The proof of their doing is the show ticket left behind at the venue of the heist.

This attracts the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is assigned the case along with French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent). While Rhodes does not believe in magic, Alma is entranced by the magician's ability to deceive. And together, they share a love-hate relationship.

Also tagging along for the performances-turned-heists are the magicians' wealthy producer-cum-banker Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) as well as a professional magic-debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), out to expose the Horsemen as phonies.

What actually makes "Now You See Me" work, is a mixture of a solid cast and a strong pace. The performances all-round are excellent, with each actor doing a fine job of pretending that they are better than the rest.

Eisenberg in particular, with an air of arrogance, low self-esteem and fizzy hair, has turned to magic in order to be one step, or several, ahead of everyone around him. He is a treat to watch. Harrelson takes a different tack as a mentalist who uses a complicated combination of intuition and body language to deduce a mark's secrets.

He uses a hollow but folksy sort of charm to take the edge off his subjects' sense of invaded privacy. Fisher is brash, Franco is cute, and that pretty much sums up their purpose.

The necessary chemistry between Ruffalo and Laurent is never quite evident. However, each is perfectly credible. Freeman and Michael Caine basically play stock versions of themselves. Not a bad thing, only predictable.

Director Louis Leterrier working from a script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, makes the first two thirds of the film exciting. There is a nice lack of predictability. The script is studded with clues and the misdirection that the magicians keep referring to as the method to their magic.

Mysterious invitations on tarot cards, peculiar apartments empty of everything except an esoteric test, talk of an ancient and noble order for only the best illusionists, are few of the enigmatic clues that make you hungry for more.

If only that suspense was well-maintained. Made with obvious affection for the craft of stage magic, there is an excellent concept here, and executed such that even when the trick of the heist is explained, although simulated, it is impressive. Then things go wrong, and the last third becomes an extended chase sequence substituting action for cleverness, and cliche for novelty.

And finally, it is the motive tugged with the emotional tag that makes the narrative robust. But "Now You See Me" gets so enraptured in its double-twists and reversals, that it doesn't give any of its cast members the time or space required to carve something memorable.

The intriguing journey of the narrative is cut short with the swish trick edits that make the scenes as basic jigsaw pieces designed to move the narrative toward its preferred destination. These, on reaching the finale simply don't fit, right down to the film's deliberately enigmatic and flamboyant prologue.

What starts out as an engaging film, one that tricks you and then reveals how it tricked you, sadly dissipates.

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