A common ploy for illusionists is a card force, using sleight of hand to ensure the mark will choose a particular playing card from the deck. Then shuffle, distract, do whatever you want but a successfully forced card can, as ads for magic kits promise, amaze and astonish your friends.
I've been fooled by forced cards plenty of times but never when the trick was performed by a movie. That is, until the opening minutes of Now You See Me, when the card I silently picked from a full deck offered by Jesse Eisenberg's character was the right one for his illusion to succeed.
Call it coincidence, subliminal persuasion or dumb luck. But for a summer movie to be that surprising right off the bat then remain unpredictably entertaining for nearly two hours? I call that magic.
Now You See Me is unique caper movie, in which mega-money heists are committed in plain sight through inexplicable circumstances to be stylishly explained later. Magic is both motive and modus operandi for a quartet of illusionists pulled together for a mysterious purpose. This movie has everything up its sleeve and presto chango at its core, ending in defiance to the plot's established logic before viewers realize they've been had.
Director Louis Leterrier introduces his rogues by tricks they pull, swirling the camera around their prestige like a magician doffing his cape. Street illusionist Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) turns that forced card into a seduction. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a glib mentalist shaking down a bad husband. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) uses sleight of hand to pick pockets. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) specializes in grand stage illusions. Their Las Vegas show is bankrolled by entrepreneur Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).
Performing as the Four Horsemen, the illusionists become a sensation when one of their stunts leads to a French bank robbery, the loot shared with their audience half a world away. Watching with great interest is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who gets rich by debunking hoaxes. Tracking with great confusion is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol cop Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).
The trail leads to breathless chases through Mardi Gras crowds, a decent car chase and twists deserving not to be spoiled. Each character believes they're smarter than everyone else then get even when they aren't. The screenplay keeps dialogue sharp, the heists clever and exposition tight until there has to be a reason for all this so everyone can go home. Now You See Me ends on its least believable note, no small feat for a movie about magic.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.