Nothing is what it seems in Louis Letterier’s high-stakes game of cat and mouse between four crowd-pleasing Las Vegas illusionists and the FBI. Every narrative twist could be a double-bluff, every failure a carefully orchestrated diversion and every flirtation a calculated exercise in audience manipulation.
Screenwriters Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt hold all the aces and for the opening 30 minutes, their collective sleight of hand dazzles and intrigues in equal measure.
Now You See Me sets up the tricks, engineers them with elan and coolly reveals the ingenious method behind the on-stage madness.
Alas, when it comes to the grand final illusion, which takes up most of the second hour, director Letterier does not play entirely fair.
He untethers the plot from plausibility and logic, allowing everything to teeter risibly on coincidence, physical improbability and outrageous good fortune.
We might just forgive the script its outlandishness if a tongue was wedged firmly in cheek, but the film is deadly serious about its jiggery pokery.
The prologue introduces us to close-up conjurer Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escapologist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), mentalist Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and street magician Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), who are successful in their own fields, dazzling small audiences with their showmanship.
Each performer receives a Tarot card bearing the same information: “March 29, 4:44pm 45 East Evan St. NY, NY”
As instructed, the quartet arrives at an apartment in New York, where a dazzling light show reveals an illusion that will stun the world.
One year later, Daniel, Henley, Merrit and Jack are reborn as The Four Horsemen.
In front of a live audience, they choose an audience member at random and magically transport their stooge to a bank in Paris to raid millions from the vault.
With their sponsor Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and renowned sceptic Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) watching in the aisles, Daniel, Henley, Merrit and Jack pull off this seemingly impossible feat.
Within hours, they are under arrest and facing interrogation by FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who does not want the case, nor the added distraction of Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).
The cops quickly learn that they underestimate the magicians at their peril.
Ignore the gaping plot holes and Now You See Me is a lot of fun. The script trades heavily on the sniping banter between the four magicians, who always seem to be one step ahead of Rhodes and the authorities. Action scenes are orchestrated at full pelt including an explosive car chase and a night-time race across rooftops.
The film’s pivotal nugget of information becomes blindingly obvious well before Letterier engineers the big reveal, but it does not greatly temper our enjoyment, simply giving us more time to piece everything together.