You know a movie hasn’t done the trick when the most entertaining on-camera moment featuring two of its stars isn’t even part of it. Such is the case with Now You See Me, Hollywood’s second magical misfire in two months. (Remember The Incredible Burt Wonderstone? I didn’t think so.)
Forget the trailer for Louis Leterrier’s (The Transporter) latest; for a hint of the grade of moviegoing merriment awaiting you, check out the interview Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman gave a FOX affiliate by satellite on May 23. It’s at vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2013/05/morgan-freeman-interview. I’ll wait while you watch.
Have you ever witnessed anything quite as refreshing? Actors are always so enthusiastic in these situations. It’s part of the act. Each new project is the high point of the performer’s career. Until they reappear to push the next one — then that’s a giant leap forward for humankind. How great is it that Freeman — clearly tired of hyping a film certain to prove a footnote to his career — drops the pretense and bags a few Zs while Caine prattles on like a windup toy?
Whatever else may be said about the instantly viral video, this is indisputable: It’s way more fun than anything in the movie. (You can tell I’m putting off reviewing it, right? Just thinking about it is painful. I know how Freeman feels.)
My favorite part of the clip is the moment when the local anchor pulls a Ron Burgundy and asks the screen icon the secret of being a great narrator. In perhaps the planet’s most recognizable, mellifluous tones, Freeman replies, “It helps to be a good reader. Having a clear voice, that’s all.” The look on the host’s face is as priceless as it is clueless.
Well, it can’t be put off forever. This slice of big-screen baloney isn’t going to review itself. (Now that would be a trick I’d pay to see. Or, in this case, pay somebody to perform.) Though — hang on — I just remembered something else, something a bit mind-blowing about the production.
Get this: Leterrier directed the 2010 film Clash of the Titans. Boaz Yakin, who cowrote Now You See Me, directed the 2000 film Remember the Titans! Pretty freaky, huh? I wonder whether I’d find references to other movies concerning titans if I researched the filmographies of the cast and crew on the Internet Movie Database. Something bound to prove more exciting than reviewing the movie, much less watching it.
OK, here you go: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher star as members of an ensemble called the Four Horsemen, who are famous for pulling remote-control bank heists onstage and showering their audience with the ill-gotten gains. Mark Ruffalo plays the grumpy, rumpled FBI agent assigned to the case. The characters played by Caine and Freeman are the casting equivalent of misdirection, adding nothing to the story, which has more holes than all the magic in the world can make disappear.
The film is riddled with flaws, but the biggest problem is the premise. The whole sleight-of-hand-artists-as-Robin-Hood-style-rock-stars thing is an illusion. The four are a bore. After a flashy opening, the story downshifts into a disappointingly routine bit of cops and robbers. The Horsemen stay one smoke-and-mirrors step ahead of the man until the final act reaches up its sleeve and pulls out a big twist that’s supposed to take us by surprise — but, instead, just takes us for idiots.
That’s not to mention that CGI effects sort of suck the wonder out of on-screen sorcery. Call them prestidigitals. The movie sucks so much, though, that in the end it doesn’t really matter. Before opening weekend, you might’ve had reason to believe Now You See Me would prove the project to break Hollywood’s magician-movie curse. Now — to say the least — you don’t.
* Running time: 115 min.
* Rated: PG-13