Actually, my card in the opening was the Queen of something. It was red - Hearts, I think. Honest(!) And yet, it wasn't SUPPOSED to be the Queen of Hearts; it was supposed to be something else, something more obvious and yet at the same time just as random. "Now You See Me" is like that - cheeky without necessarily being obnoxious, playful without being disagreeable. You know what you saw, sort of, and your head tells you one thing while some other part of your body cries out something else. It's a good opening - one that commands your attention as the character literally speaks into the camera, but ultimately one which opens a film unable to command as much awe as it thinks it is able to. Like any slight-of-hand trick, it is more style than substance.
Much has, of course, been written about how cinema itself is essentially a magic trick; an illusion created by projected light and a series of still images moving rapidly in order to create the impression of motion. We know what we watch is often not real, though sometimes it can be, and on other occasions it is difficult to entirely discern. "Now You See Me" is a strange, warped celebration of this fact - a little fatuous, but it uses the bare-bones of the joyous idea of trickery to propel it, and it is good fun while it lasts.
The film tells the story of four New Yorkers, bound by the ability to feign illusion to varying extents, being brought together by an unseen character in order to conduct a series of daring public shows. Danny (Jesse Eisenberg) and Henley (Isla Fisher) are your standard stage-magicians, while Merritt (Woody Harrelson) and Jack (James Franco) more resemble con-artists, with Harrelson in particular specialising in the conspicuous art of mentalism. One day, out of nowhere, they each receive suspicious tarot cards which inform them to frequent a local address (a Youtube analysis by Plebtier questions as to whether or not anyone would actually go), only to find it mysteriously unoccupied but for a small presentation which binds them for the rest of the film.
Within one year, the group, nicknamed The Four Horsemen, are in Vegas conducting what looks like the robbery of a bank on the other side of the world via the bending of space and time. Here, the crew pick a Parisian man out from the crowd; send him into his bank's vault and then seemingly suck millions of currency out, over the ocean, and into the arena - betraying science in the process. And yet it must have happened, because we saw it happen, don't we?
The actions of the Horsemen attract the attention of Mark Ruffalo, who plays an FBI agent by the name of Rhodes, and who, along with a French Interpol agent, seeks to find out just what the Hell is going on. His introduction sees him storm, typical for the archetype, down a corridor in a police station; enter an office; fire off his dialogue and get on with things. Later on, he will sit dishevelled at a bar and consume alcohol in very small glasses. Cliché or diversion? The Horsemen in custody, no one can actually prove anything in spite of the show - are you REALLY going to charge someone for defying physics? Propping the film up is their manager Tressler (Michael Caine), who keeps them under his wing. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, plays Thaddeus Bradley - an ex-magician who profits from revealing the secrets behind other magicians' tricks and who serves as a sort of direct communiqué to the audience when they are most scratching their heads.
The film repeats what it does during its opening stunt on a further two occasions, the last of which ties in with the film's climax, creating something which is at once quite stupid but strangely watchable. The film is stuck in a strange no man's land between what is believable in the real world and what we consider movie escapism - if we accept that aliens can come down to Earth and turn into automobiles in one film, why can't a handcuffed magician transfer the keys to his cuffs into a coke can AND break free in the process? Because it's impossible, that's why.
It is a curious thing the film has essentially drawn influence from the first "Ace Ventura" for its plot, though more curious is that we are asked to believe a Frenchman could've been so persuaded to go to Vegas in the first place; that this motley group might be able to perform armoured van heists; rig explosive getaways and that Caine would be stupid enough to go back to New Orleans if he had history there. Again, we turn to the analysis of Plebtier - when a character steals a black sedan during an escape, it seems as if he does so by chance, yet the film would have you think it was part of a wider, carefully constructed plan involving a crash on a bridge.
By the time the film ends, what have we actually seen? The idea, though far from watertight, is quite good fun - it is too convoluted, though is a good crack up to the point it stops and I was, to its credit, still into it by the time the final act was rounded off. There is a whole ream of questions one could ask related to FBI background checks; the presence of GPS bugs in cell phones; how you organise all this without even meeting your insider; why Danny and Henley would even turn to high-scale crime in the first place, and I don't think all of it adds up, though I did enjoy the journey to realising that not all of it adds up...
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