Klavan On The Culture

When Good Films Go Bad: Now You See Me

Interestingly enough, this film gets a 70% positive rating from viewers on Rotten Tomatoes, even though it only gets a 50% from critics — and if you only counted the best critics, I’m pretty sure the rating would be much lower. The critics’ beef: it doesn’t make sense. The audience reply: Hey, shut up, it’s entertaining.

Normally, I’m pretty solidly with the audience on these things — especially because so often a perceived slight to left wing orthodoxy can lower a movie in the small minds of many highly placed reviewers. Make a film that doesn’t celebrate abortion, or that honors the military, or suggests that the U.S. got it right somewhere along the line, and you’re pretty much screwed at the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New Republic and all the other old-poop places that call themselves new.

In this case, however, I think the critics get it right on purely aesthetic grounds. The first thirty minutes of Now You See Me just rock. They are so clever, so entertaining, so fast, so attractive that you are on board for the ride almost from the first moment…  and then someone somewhere in the film-making hierarchy made a bad decision. Really bad. And the film goes into a graveyard spin.

The movie centers around four con-men-cum-magicians who are brought together by a mysterious fifth in order to perform high profile robberies that can’t be solved by the police even if they’re watching them at the time. You can’t get much more entertaining than that. The cast is full of talented and familiar faces and the four magician leads, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco, are charming and energetic enough to pull the whole thing off. The relationships are interesting. The stunts are fun. Does it make perfect sense? No, but really, who cares? It’s fast, thrilling and it could sort of happen. Sort of.

That’s the first thirty minutes. But then, someone had the bright idea that the focus of the movie shouldn’t be our four young stars and their original characters and dynamic relationships. No, the focus of the movie should be the mis-matched male-female pair of investigators who are going after them. Because we’ve never seen that before! No offense to Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent who get caught playing this tired cinematic trope. They do the best they can. But who on earth decided to ditch the fascinating magicians for these two old-school characters? After they become the center of the film, it’s kind of a yawn fest and the fact that it makes no sense becomes annoying.

Anyway, great for half an hour, mild fun throughout. But it could’ve been terrific all the way and it hurts to see it miss the target.