Jesse Eisenberg just needed the money, in "Now You See Me." Credit: Summit Entertainment Jesse Eisenberg did it all for the Benjamins in "Now You See Me."
Credit: Summit Entertainment

‘Now You See Me’
Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

A friend once maintained that it was wrong to seek a simple, rational understanding from Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Mirror.” The same could be said about “Now You See Me.” The difference is that “The Mirror” is a mysterious, confounding art-film masterpiece, while “Now You See Me” is a silly magician thriller that plays like the ravings of a madman. A lot of dim entertainments make little rational sense, but there’s usually at least a toe in reality, or its own peculiar set of rules. This has neither. It exists in a world without sense, and is even more confusing than the fact that it sports a hilariously overqualified cast.

Actually, that can be explained away: Bills gotta be paid, even if you’re Jesse Eisenberg. The onetime Mark Zuckerberg plays one of four hotshot New York street magicians — alongside Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco — who are tasked by a mystery man in a hoodie with an enigmatic scheme. Their task is simple: become world famous magicians who, while performing in the largest auditorium in Vegas, somehow steal money from a bank in France and spread the wealth among their packed house. Why? It, like most things in the film, never becomes clear. Enter detectives (Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent), who can’t prove they did anything wrong, as well as a James Randi skeptic type (Morgan Freeman), who tries to debunk their every trick while smirking a classically Morgan Freeman smirk.

 

Freeman’s character is the closest thing to a baddie, as he’s the one who thinks he can offer logical readings of what he sees. He can’t, because there is no sense to be made. Our magicians are not just tricksters and sleight-of-hand artists; they actually have real magical powers — sometimes. Sloppily introduced into the plot is a shadowy line of real magicians going back into the centuries, which our four Robin Hoods aspire to join. The actors look as lost as anyone trying to follow the plot. Poor Mark Ruffalo seems as frustrated as his character, forced to utter inane dialogue amidst inexplicable action. Amazing tricks are never adequately explained, and what pass as explanations would require more money, planning and manpower than necessary given the relatively modest end goal (which makes no sense either).

Co-writer Boaz Yakin once used the money and clout he accrued writing the bizarrely nonsensical Clint Eastwood-Charlie Sheen actioner “The Rookie” to make the excellent urban chess drama “Fresh.” Since he’s now helped make the most inspiredly stupid film from a major studio with real, talented actors since “Dreamcatcher;” may he go onto another small masterpiece.

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