TED talks, start-ups, and brain trusts seem to be all the rage these days. We are living in an age of ideas where a person can be praised (and financially rewarded) for thinking of something regardless of whether or not she or he has actually done any of the work of testing those thoughts with actions. We’ve bypassed process and product and settled simply on the proposal stage.
Now You See Me feels like a proposal for a film. The dialog feels like it ought to be in brackets. The action set pieces (there are three) feel like a series of YouTube highlights, and the themes feel copy and pasted from yesterday’s headlines. The movie is as if a studio executive said one day over drinks, “A movie about magician back robbers who steal from the rich to give to the poor – that sounds cool! Go shoot some test footage.” Then they decided to release the test footage theatrically. In view of this, the movie’s title, while clearly meant as a reference to a disappearing act’s cliched phrase, becomes merely a statement of objective fact.
Now You See Me is kind of terrible, but that’s doesn’t mean it isn’t also kind of fun. The story had enough surprises to hold my interest. This is partially because the parts are so poorly connected – no one part seems to cause what follows – and it’s partially because this is a mystery about magicians after all, and even the worst mysteries and magicians manage a smidgen of deception.
And though they are ripped without contemplative thought from yesterday’s headlines, the themes and motifs are worth our contemplation. These magicians are in the wealth redistribution business. The people they are most interested in redistributing to are those unjustly treated by insurance companies in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and the citizens of post-9/11 New York City. The scene where dollar bills float down from just extinguished towers of light on gathered New York masses is as poignant an image as I’ve seen in a theater this year.
God help me, I like movies like Now You See Me. They are the cinematic equivalent of the crayon drawing my mom used to magnet to our refrigerator door featuring stick figures of me holding my mom and dad’s hands while an alligator flew above us in the sky overhead. “Why is there an alligator in the sky?” my mom might have asked. “Because the one at the zoo growled at me,” I might have answered, “And I needed you to hold my hand.”