"Now You See Me" is pretty much a case of style over substance.
But what style!
This thriller about magicians robbing banks doesn't have much in the way of ideas, character or subtlety; but the intricate, breakneck plot is never boring and its ending is sensational.
This film image released by Summit Entertainment shows Jesse Eisenberg in a scene from “Now You See Me.”
The tale makes good on its enticing previews, which revealed a quartet of magicians who seem almost supernaturally skilled.
They open, for example, by robbing a bank right in the middle of their live Las Vegas act - a bank apparently chosen at random, and one that happens to be on the other side of the world. The millions of Euros arrive instantaneously in Vegas, whereupon the magicians give it all away.
And that's just for starters.
You'd best be prepared to pay close attention; the plot moves at 100 miles an hour as subsequent magic shows keep raising the ante - while the quartet (who call themselves "The Four Horsemen") is trailed by hapless FBI agents and a myth-busting expert who exposes how magicians do their tricks.
Yet despite this clever storyline, I was drawn to the film by its excellent cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson and, a personal favorite, Mark Ruffalo.
Though the film is fun, one serious flaw is that the four magicians really seem able to do just about anything. This gives stars like Eisenberg and Harrelson a chance to display their cocky personae; but it also mitigates suspense and surprise.
After all, how can we worry about or be shocked by protagonists who seem infallible?
Enter Ruffalo as Agent Rhodes, who is leading the investigation and pursuit; fumbling and stressed but ever determined, he provides a solid, down-to-earth character we can really care about.
Though we generally like the magicians and the tricks, their self-centered showiness gets a trifle grating and we tend to side with Rhodes as well, even hoping he may crack the case, though this hardly seems likely.
Indeed, Ruffalo's fine performance is just about the only thing tying this film to reality - well, that and the lesser-known Melanie Laurent as an Interpol agent who learns the appeal of illusion while also falling for Rhodes.
This is a useful story strand in a film that's sometimes too fast and slick for its own good. Honestly, it's like the plot has ADD; it can't stay in one place for five minutes without spiking off in some new direction.
But I was won over by the performances, by Brian Tyler's excellent score (he also did fine work on "Iron Man 3") and especially by the aforementioned resolution, which pulls off the impressive feat of surprising us while also tying up loose ends.
It works like magic - if you'll pardon the expression.