**1/2 (out of four)
With a good magic trick, you feel just as tickled during the illusion’s setup as you do after the big finish. In the magician heist-thriller “Now You See Me,” giddy mind games just give way to indifference.
At least the film keeps enough mysterious plates spinning for audience members to miss some of what it’s up to. In the introductory sequence, an unknown figure scouts four ambitious magicians as they seem to evade flesh-eating piranhas or read people’s minds. A year later, those masters of mental and physical trickery (Jesse Eisenberg, his “Zombieland” co-star Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) work as the Four Horsemen and dazzle a huge Vegas crowd with a nifty stunt: they teleport a random audience member to France to rob a bank and bring back the money for the stunned audience.
Is this a crew of snarky Robin Hoods or devilish thieves? It requires the obvious mention of “Ocean’s Eleven,” from which the far-fetched “Now You See Me” takes blatant inspiration (and a twist or two) without replicating its style and finesse. Despite an excellent cast, the magicians’ characters and roles on the team also aren’t differentiated enough to convince that these particular people were the only choices for the job. And while we’re naming unsatisfying plot threads: Neither the backstory of Henley (Fisher) being Danny’s (Eisenberg) former assistant nor the flirtation between the FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol officer (Melanie Laurent) on the case pays off in any convincing fashion, if at all.
So “Now You See Me” isn’t “The Prestige.” It’s also not “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” a wretched comedy that made magic seem stale and magicians seem obnoxious. “NYSM” has a playful spirit and an extensive assortment of welcome presences (including Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman) that hold interest even as the elaborate ruse loses steam and cleverness. It’s a hoot to watch authorities having to take magic seriously as a criminal investigation. I’d recommend proving Danny’s “the closer you look, the less you see” motto true by working on the twists and ignoring the movie’s weaknesses.
Still, the best tricks are the ones we can’t explain, and the film’s answer hardly lives up to its questions.
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