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Originally published Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 12:09 AM

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‘Now You See Me’ conjures up scant magic

A review of “Now You See Me,” a movie whose dream-team cast doesn’t quite make magic together.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘Now You See Me,’ with Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Mélanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Common, Jose Garcia, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Louis Leterrier, from a screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content. Several theaters.

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“Now You See Me,” despite some compelling moments, is one of those movies you watch while thinking about other movies that you’re not watching. Such as: Can every movie, not just the “Batman” series and this one, feature Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman? (How about they play a pair of retired song-and-dance men, looking to pull off a heist together?) Wouldn’t it be fun if Isla Fisher, she of the adorably chirpy screwball voice, teamed up with the sweetly slurry Woody Harrelson for a rom-com? Or how about if Jesse Eisenberg made a movie in which you didn’t think, wait, why is Mark Zuckerberg in this scene?

All of these people, minus the real Zuckerberg, turn up for “Now You See Me,” a thriller that should be a lot more fun than it actually is. Eisenberg, Fisher, Harrelson and Dave Franco (who, yes, is James’ brother, and there’s a separated-at-birth movie idea right there) play a touring quartet of magicians who call themselves The Four Horsemen. Their specialty is big, high-tech acts — such as one in which they seem to rob a Paris bank (yes, money rains onto the audience, as if the Horsemen time-traveled) while in Las Vegas. And they’re being watched: by a suspicious FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo, who would make an excellent third point on the theoretical Fisher/Harrelson love triangle) investigating the robbery, by a notorious magic debunker (Freeman), and by their shady businessman sponsor (Caine, who does shady like nobody else). Cars get flipped, playing cards get thrown, people get hypnotized into thinking that they’re symphony musicians (a funny running gag) and, mercifully, no one really gets sawed in half.

So why isn’t this movie a kick? Because it’s so hard to make magic work on film. Movies are magic already, so when we see magic on screen, we don’t know if it’s the magician’s skill, or the camera’s. Director Louis Leterrier keeps things a little muddy — are we supposed to believe in time-travel? — and the screenplay doesn’t tell us quite enough about any of these characters; you wonder, vaguely, why they do what they do, but then some snappy action sequence happens. “Now You See Me” zips by, smoothly and pleasantly thanks to that star-studded cast and the slick cinematography, but it’s hard to get too attached to it. Now you see it, now you don’t, now you stop thinking about it. Like magic.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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