J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a cocky, up-and-coming magician. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is his former assistant who is turning heads with her own show. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a cocky street magician/petty crook. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist, highly adept at reading people and hypnosis.
These four talented amateur magicians find themselves mysteriously summoned to the same address in downtown Manhattan where they end up bonding together and creating a new magical act they call the Four Horseman. A year later they have an enormous Las Vegas act, where for their final trick they rob a bank. Not just any bank, but one on the opposite side of the world in France.
And when they succeed, it leaves the FBI and Interpol completely clueless about how they managed to pull off the trick. With no proof or evidence, they have no choice but to release the quartet while keeping a close eye on them.
Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is assigned to the case along with a partner from Interpol, Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent). But the two quickly find themselves over their heads as they have little knowledge about the art of magic and illusion. In order for them to even have a chance at catching the Horsemen, they try and enlist the aid of famous magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who is more interested in proving the magicians as charlatans for his own TV show than helping the police catch criminals.
But even with the extra help, the Four Horsemen are always two steps ahead of their pursuers. And with each show they perform, the stakes get higher and higher as they appear to be heading to some ultimate trick for the ages. That is if they don’t get caught first.
The first half of this film is fun and exciting. Just watching the four magicians interact with one another or while they are applying their craft is great entertainment. The two most interesting are Atlas, who is an ass and likes showing off that he’s the smartest guy in the room, and McKinney who was such a great character that he probably could have been the star of his own movie much less than just simply part of a bigger ensemble. Henley is mostly used for eye candy, and Wilder misses out on a good chunk of the film.
Unfortunately, after introducing some great characters and a very interesting storyline, the film stalls out in the middle. Instead of focusing on the magicians, the film ends up more about the agents chasing them, and they are the most boring part of the film. Agent Rhodes is such a clueless character you have to wonder how he could be an FBI agent. And the character isn’t helped any by Ruffalo’s poor acting ability. After the first few times seeing him, you begin to cringe whenever he is on the screen.
His Interpol partner and messed-up love interest isn’t much better. Some of her acting flaws could just be that she’s a native French speaker. But as much screen time as the two get one of them needs to at least be engaging for the audience. Unfortunately, neither one is.
Even with a weak middle section, the initial premise is so interesting that it leaves you excited and geared up for what the final payoff will be at the end, yet wondering if the writers will be able to pull off something both believable and entertaining that will leave you completely satisfied.
Staying true to both the beginning and middle that gives you a combination of both good and bad, the end is also somewhat muddled. The four magicians amaze with their final trick and once again pull off something impossible. But even after their final feat, there’s one last sleight of hand pulled on them as well as the audience in order to create a surprise ending. Not only do you have to believe that someone would try to steal billions of dollars by filling up their car so full that nobody could get into it to drive it, but you would have to believe it was possible to set up a trick 30 years ago and have everything fall into place.
If Now You See Me had stayed more true to the initial premise, while sticking with the more interesting characters and developing them more, it could have been a really good film even with the fuzzy ending. But once you have to wade through that long middle section, the ending needs to be even that much more spectacular and focused to lift it above your typically average movie.