Do you believe in magic?
That was the opening line and title, as many music fans know, of a peppy 1960s hit by The Lovin’ Spoonful. It’s also the question at the hocus-pocus, hi-jinxed heart of “Now You See Me,” about a group of dazzling young performers that the FBI believes may actually be thieves with one than one trick up their sneaky sleeves.
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher play the magicians, known as the Four Horsemen, who’ve become sensations for their sell-out shows, which combine baffling feats of hypnotism, levitation, vanishing and reappearing, and always end with a fat payoff: hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars, given away to the audience and apparently stolen — poof, just like that — from banks that might be thousands of miles away.
Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), with a special assist from a beautiful French Interpol officer (Mélanie Laurent from “Inglourius Basterds”), smells a rat. He turns to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a TV and DVD personality who’s made his fortune exposing the fakery of famous magicians.
Another acting veteran, Michael Caine, plays the Horsemen’s wealthy sponsor, with a sizable bank account that stands to get even fatter if he can prevent Freeman’s character from cracking his act’s secrets.
But no one can figure out the identity of the Horsemen’s anonymous benefactor, the “designer” of the act itself. Who’s behind the trickery — or the larceny? These four former “street magicians” certainly didn’t rocket to overnight superstardom by themselves.
And then there’s the theory that the Horsemen aren’t crooks, but initiates of an ancient mythic ritual using magic to “even the scales of justice.”
Do you believe in magic, indeed?
It’s a slick little cat-and-mouse caper wrapped around a novel idea, and the likeable cast runs with the fun, sometimes literally. There’s a fast-paced chase through a New York apartment building that includes a dual drop down a trash chute and then into the streets, where the action continues in cars. Another foot pursuit takes places on the crowded, reveler-filled alleyways of New Orleans.
Anyone who likes magic will enjoy how much the movie dwells on the conjurer’s art, depicting a spectrum of tricks and illusions — and, in some cases, revealing how they’re done.
But the movie’s real secret, however, is the one that it keeps until the very end, a surprising revelation that finally sorts out who’s who and what’s what.
With a cool cast, a twisty-turny plot, and a fresh, feisty spin on disappearing bunnies and musty old pick-a-card routines, “Now You See Me” might just be the rare movie about magicians to make cash registers do a serious ring at the box office. If it can do that, that’ll be its best trick of all.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Now You See Me”
STARRING: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo
DIRECTED BY: Louis Leterrier
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes