Star-studded Now You See Me entertaining big-screen hocus pocus

by Mark Burger

It’s best not to ponder too much Now You See Me , a flashy, splashy thriller about a quartet of magicians mixed up in grand larceny on a global scale. Like so many instances of sleight-of-hand, cinematic or otherwise,

delving too deeply into how a magic trick is done dampens its effect. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco comprise the act known as the “Four Horseman.” Alone, each has some varying degree of success (or not) as a magician. Teamed up, they’re the toast of the Las Vegas Strip and beyond. With the backing of billionaire Michael Caine, they’re about to achieve global fame — and notoriety.

With each seemingly impossible feat of magic, what tends to vanish are vast sums of money — including some from their own backer, who quickly turns on them. Such grand larceny does not go unnoticed by the authorities, as FBI agent Mark Ruffalo and Interpol agent Melanie Laurent pair up in pursuit of them, as does Morgan Freeman, cast as a professional skeptic who sees his own ticket to global fame if he can debunk their doings.

This being a film about magic, there is the inevitable Big Reveal at the end — yet another plot point that doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Better to sit back and enjoy the ride for what it is. Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt’s appropriately trick-filled screenplay is more concerned with the here and now than with the Big Picture. Now You See Me aims to entertain, and for the most part it hits the target. In this day and age of big-budget, high-concept cinematic idiocy, such modest aspirations are refreshing. It’s all a game, and it’s all in good fun.

Director Louis Leterrier keeps the action moving at a fast clip — all the better, again, to keep the viewer from delving into the details — and the star-studded cast is good company throughout.

Eisenberg, Harrelson, Fisher and Franco bounce off one another with affectionate aplomb, and each of them have moments to shine — even if Franco’s big moment is a lengthy fight-and-chase sequence through the streets of New York. Ruffalo’s intensity and Laurent’s glamorous intelligence yields good screen chemistry, and Freeman’s wry, off-the-cuff gravitas is a perfect fit. It would have been nice to see a little more of Caine, who disappears from the narrative (not by magic) fairly early on, but it’s nice having him around in any case. After all, Michael Caine brings a magic all his own.