Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

June 3, 2013

CALLERI: When genre films don't find their cinematic footing

Niagara Gazette — Motion picture studios thrive on caper thrillers and science fiction films, so it’s no surprise that two new entries in these genres are part of the early “summer” box office rush.

Neither “Now You See Me,” about magicians pulling a heist, nor “After Earth,” about the planet Earth after its collapse, is one for the ages, although the heist picture is certainly a bit more tantalizing.

In a Las Vegas auditorium, four talented magicians, with the unwitting help of a pleasant Frenchman, seem to rob a bank in Paris successfully. It’s a clever trick, one that will be explained later in the film. I’m a fan of magic, especially sleight-of-hand work. A good friend of mine, Victor Trabucco, is not only a master glass artist, but he’s also a master magician, and he even holds a patent on a magic trick he invented. I have sat inches away from him when he’s performed card tricks, and I am always amazed. I wish all movies astonished me that way.

I enjoy not knowing how tricks are created and carried out. So I have to admit that I was genuinely surprised when, in “Now You See Me,” we are let in on the secret of how the Paris bank robbery was done all the way from Nevada. I wish the movie had maintained that sense of wonder.

A quartet of happy-go-lucky magicians, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and Jesse Eisenberg, are known as “The Four Horsemen,” but they are basically con artists. They are called upon by a mysterious stranger to carry out a major heist in New York City after having impressed everyone with their Vegas feat of legerdemain. The film also makes a brief stop in New Orleans.

Before the New York caper, the madcap magicians will bedevil a millionaire insurance executive (Michael Caine) and will be studied by a famous debunker of magic (Morgan Freeman). The foursome is also being pursued by Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent, who is the slovenliest and most unlikely federal agent I’ve ever seen. He's flustered and angry and a genuine slob. He makes Peter Falk’s rumpled, scattered Detective Columbo seem like a cool, calm and collected neat freak. Ruffalo is joined by Melanie Laurent’s Parisian Interpol sleuth, who is smarter and more confident than anyone in the FBI.

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