By Elias Savada | June 3, 2013

With news of his latest self-imposed exile from filmmaking, just as his Liberace biopic was hitting the HBO airwaves, Steven Soderburgh’s absence as a force in American cinema will be a sorely missed. Yes, his fans, including myself, are losing a great cinema caper maker. Thankfully we are reminded of the soon-to-be-retired helmer’s boldly exciting thrill rides (“Ocean’s Eleven (and its lesser sequels) and “Out of Sight“) with Louis Leterrier’s wink-filled heist flick “Now You See Me.”

Whether it’s the captivating direction (Leterrier rebooted “The Incredible Hulk” and helmed the fast-paced “Transporter”—at 26!—and its first sequel); a tense and mesmerizingly seductive screenplay by Ed Solomon (“Men in Black”) and Boaz Yakin (“Safe”, “Hostel“) & Edward Ricourt; the totally in-sync cast that carries on a nuanced, enchanting banter; the glossy, the adrenaline-racing camerawork by Mitchell Amundsen (“Wanted” and second unit work on a ton of stunt-driven tentpoles) for the action sequences, and the intricate, swirling photography of the illusion sequences by Larry Fong (“300,” “Watchmen“); a crackerjack Mission Impossible-style score by Brian Tyler; or awesome production design by Peter Wenham, “Now You See Me” is an electrifying joyride. Multi-talented Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (both “Star Trek” features and a ton of successful TV and film projects) join Bobby Cohen (“Revolutionary Road“) as producers. Quite a pedigree, and the film fires on all its cylinders.

“The closer you look, the less you see.”

That’s the film’s magical mantra. It might also make you want to see the film again because you might have missed something. It has that kind of infectious wonder about it.

The spectacle begins with a segment that introduces us to a group of variety acts, some as big as a skyscraper, others many stories smaller. The big sendoff belongs to the shaggy-haired, stubble-faced, and highly arrogant J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), an extraordinary card trickster, followed by shyster mind reader-mentalist-hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) jamming up a couple in need in counseling, then on to street smart magician-pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave “Warm Bodies” Franco), and ending with the show-stopping Houdini-esque, piranha-defying escape artist Henly Reeves (Isla Fisher, thankfully, in non-ditzy mode), Daniel’s former assistant. It’s a great come-on sequence that will morph, a year later, into a supreme Las Vegas performance at the MGM Grand. The group, which has been assembled by a mysterious hooded stranger (Keyser Söze, perhaps?), who has provided each a Tarot card, calls itself The Four Horsemen. This high octane blending of all of their strengths is bankrolled by insurance mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), while Morgan Freeman takes on the role of the famed magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley. The group audaciously informs the sold-out crowd that it will rob a Parisian bank during its presentation. With audience-pleasing flair, it does just that.

In comes FBI Special Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate, with Interpol detective Alma (Mélanie Laurent) hoisted upon him to collaborate. The Horsemen, brought in for questioning, quickly turn the interrogation tables on the authorities.

The film’s already exhilarating intensity grows 40 minutes in, when the quartet, months later, performs in New Orleans and provides some amusing relief for Hurricane Katrina’s victims. Meanwhile the cat-and-mouse chase continues with the foursome and the FBI with some startling over-the-top stunt work on the streets of New York. The final act jaw-drops in a building in Queens and centers around an earlier safe robbery.

“Now You See Me” will keep you entranced from start to finish, and will keep you guessing as to who and what for most of that. Like TV’s “Leverage,” some of the answers to the super-sized MacGyver gimmicks will play out later, and I’ll be damned if I’ll satisfy you with any spoilers.

The brilliant heist caper and the fascinating realm of illusion blend flawlessly in the summer’s most intelligent film. Forget the drudgery of “The Hangover, Part III,” (Please! If you haven’t seen it, don’t!) or the dull Will Smith sci-fi entry “After Earth” playing at the multiplex. “Fast & Furious 6” is a fun, terrific, heart-racing, popcorn-munching movie. But if you want real satisfaction for your box office buck, you’ll find it watching “Now You See Me.” And then you’ll tell your friends how much you enjoyed it.

p.s. I’ll be watching it again, and again, very soon.

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  1. Derrick says:

    That was one of the dumbest movies I have seen in my life. Who in their right mind could call it the most intelligent of the summer? I’m floored by your analysis of this movie.

  2. Marconius7 says:

    My son and I saw the movie last night and both of us thought it was a very clever little film, well plotted with some interesting twists and turns. It had us hooked early when they introduced the magician characters. Don’t want to give it away, but when this moment happened, my son turned to me and said “Holy crap! How did they do that?” (And it’s not a special effect. Can’t say more without giving it away. We did deconstruct it afterwards and figure it out.) As magic fans, we enjoyed the deconstruction of some of the tricks as well.

  3. jean says:

    Just saw the movie this weekend. at least it was not another sequel, so sick of that! Really enjoyed myself and was entertained. sad that hangover 3 can make so much money on very poor writing and acting too. The actors were all excellent, so what if there were a few narrative problems, The amount of money wasted in Hollywood on crap is unbelievable, most of it the same stories over and over again. Give me at least something original!

  4. Max says:

    “Intelligent”? You literally just threw away your credibility as a reviewers for all time. This might be one of the most simple minded, flawed, and poorly executed heist (or for that matter any genre) of film I’ve seen in the last 5 years. Idiot.

  5. Linda T. Minton says:

    Thank you for a great review. I have a feeling that others reviewed it so poorly because either they didn’t understand it, or didn’t want to be bothered with a complex plot. I love to be tricked, and enjoy the process of trying to figure things out before the end. I’ll be seeing it again soon, as well … before it leaves the big screen.

  6. Brad says:

    This movie is terrible. The 44% RT rating is spot on.

  7. Matt says:

    “The most intelligent film of the summer” ? Either we didn’t see the same film or the other ones are really, really bad. This was so pedantic it was almost more pedantic than it was boring.

  8. Nathan says:

    There is nothing intelligent about this film. I love it when a movie takes me by surprise, but this just takes the audience for idiots.

  9. Elias Savada certainly does make a compelling case for the film … which makes me wonder why it has only a 44% positive rating among reviewers (according to Rotten Tomatoes). But then again, most reviewers liked “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” while I could only the give it two out of five stars.

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