Copyright © 2013 by Summit Entertainment
Four talented magicians are called upon to perform together and stage incredible magical feats in Las Vegas, New Orleans and New York. When the acts become part of a police investigation for robbing a bank in Paris and pilfering from the magicians’ sponsor, insurance mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and an officer from Interpol, Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) are paired up to unmask the real motive of Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) who have also dubbed themselves as the Four Horsemen.
Known for more action-oriented fare i.e. ‘The Transporter’ and ‘The Incredible Hulk’, it is comforting to note that Louis Leterrier’s expanding repertoire is not typecasting him from embarking on high concept projects such as this one. While it is respectably original and far cleverer than it has any right to be, the outrageous premise works through brisk pacing, witty dialogue and star power. Leterrier’s presentation is fairly linear to avoid confusion on the plot’s twisty turns and countless misdirection thrown at the viewer.
The inventively staged illusions are spellbinding realised by the advent of advance computer imagery. The mystery surrounding the magicians’ motives are shrouded in all that razzmatazz, it will keep you on the edge of your seat until the curtains are drawn. For a dose of reality, the film doubles as an exposé on magic being purely a tool for entertainment, a skill honed hopefully for more than just the typical 15 minutes of fame but is usually met with very little fortune.
Although it is ‘Magic 101’, the tricks disclosed by Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) provide a continued glimpse to unearth the trade secrets of prestidigitators (more concisely and specifically explored by ‘The Illusionist’ and ‘The Prestige’ previously) which have become increasingly noteworthy since David Copperfield took the world by storm in the 1970s. Freeman rarely disappoints in anything that he is in (while some may argue of his choices lately have been streamlined to repeatedly playing a different version of himself in real life).
Well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? I do not see what the problem is if the role is acted remarkably but does not veer too far out of an actor’s zone for changeability. A good performance will remain as it is no matter how much familiarity sets in. It is disheartening then to learn that the most flawed element in an aptly released escapist fun is the lack of compelling characterisations in absorbing performances from Eisenberg, Ruffalo, Harrelson and Caine.
Eisenberg is laudably suave, Ruffalo’s boy scout has a few tricks up his sleeve, Harrelson balances an uneasy mix of kooky and mature well while obtaining Caine albeit underused only increases the overall enjoyment. Judging from the show’s profit has more than tripled its production budget, it should not come as a surprise that a sequel is already on the way. Even if it is needless, hopefully the questions which have been deliberately left unanswered will be addressed in their next escapade.
Rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content