With a cast consisting of actors like Michael Caine, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo, one would think that Now You See Me would be foolproof regardless of story. But then again, the fact that a robust roster of talent can’t buttress the flimsy plot of the film proves that artful screenwriting should never be sacrificed to make room for an insane casting budget. Louis Leterrier (best known for directing The Transporter film series) directs Ed Solomon (big up for writing Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) and Boaz Yakin's (also big up for writing Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) script with the ease and dexterity of someone accustomed to action and thriller movies. Nonetheless, the lack of character objectives and holes in plot logic make one wish Solomon and Yakin had collaborated to make Bill & Ted’s Gnarly Expedition instead.
After four second-rate magicians, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), are brought together by an anonymous benefactor, the quartet forms a Las Vegas show backed by insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). Their "magic" is called into question by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) when they supposedly teleport an audience member to a Parisian bank so that he can steal the money in the vault to give back to the audience. Also involved in investigating the case is Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), who has never worked a case away from the desk before. Their vague attraction--which I guess is supposed to come across as electric, but seems more fizzling than anything else--is interrupted by the mentalist ways of Merritt, who says he's picking up some father and abandonment issues on Dylan's end. With no physical proof of the robbery, Dylan is forced to release them, even though they essentially admit they're going to do it again.
At their next performance, which has attracted an even higher profile in the wake of all their publicity, the foursome ends up duping their own patron, stealing upwards of 140 million dollars from Arthur Tressler's bank account. The audience members who receive the funds all have one thing in common: Each person's claim was rejected by Tressler's insurance company. Enraged by their betrayal, Tressler enlists the help of magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). Once a magician himself, Bradley profits from exposing other magicians' secrets, including the famed Lionel Shrike, whom he so embarrassed in proving his magic to be a stunt, that Shrike took on an impossible underwater trick and ended up drowning. It's one of those back stories that makes you think, "Hmmm, I wonder when this seemingly insignificant tidbit will be revisited again..."
The answer is, not until much later in the story after you're left wondering why it takes the movie almost a full two hours to get to its point--which you're still not entirely sure of. Maybe the power of vengeance/vengeance is a dish best served cold is the primary theme. But watching Kill Bill Vol. 1 is all you'll ever need to sit through to truly understand such a delicate motif. Still, it would seem that Now You See Me is well-liked--or at least financially beneficial--enough to have warranted an upcoming sequel. Perhaps by then, the story will have figured out what it's trying to say.