Our magicians from various corners of the trickster universe (smarmy street magician Jesse Eisenberg, escape artist Isla Fisher, down-on-his-luck hypnotist Woody Harrelson, sharp-witted pickpocket Dave Franco) are assembled by a mysterious benefactor and dubbed ‘The Four Horsemen’.
After a run of sell-out shows, they’re booked for one night only at the MGM Grand in Vegas.
Part of their act involves transporting a member of the audience to a French bank vault, where they get away with 30 million Euros, which are then showered on the gasping audience.
Everyone assumes it’s all just razzle-dazzle until it’s revealed that the money really is missing, and it’s up to prickly FBI agent Mark Ruffalo and his gang of debunkers (including Mélanie Laurent) to get to the bottom of this costly bit of hocus pocus.
Director Louis Leterrier certainly knows how to make a film zoom – he’s the man responsible for the first two Transporter flicks, after all – and for its first half, Now You See Me does exactly that.
However, there are so many twists, turns and ‘shocking reveals’ that we’re soon bogged down by a top-heavy narrative that then collapses with a final reversal that’s only stunning in its sheer ridiculousness.
Of course, there’s more than a touch of absurdity in the idea of a movie about magicians, especially one that lays on the showmanship so thick.
Sleight-of-hand and vanishing acts impress in the flesh, but are a bit useless in a medium where the ‘magic’ is usually achieved via editing and CGI.
Still, for a good stretch Now You See Me is engaging and eye-popping and the cast are clearly having a ball, even if our ‘heroes’ aren’t as lovably roguish as, say, Danny Ocean’s mob (Eisenberg unleashes all his Social Network arrogance, only in less fascinating fashion).
But if it’s a choice between this and paying to watch your local hypnotist, go with this. At least you’ll keep your trousers on in public.
Ocean’s Eleven meets The Prestige? Not quite. Starts well, ends in a heap, but in between there’s just enough splash and flash to distract from the lack of substance