On Monday evening I attended a preview screening of a mystery movie at the Birmingham branch of a large cinema chain. This wasn’t an opening this weekend cynical attempt to distort the box-office, but a genuine preview of a movie that doesn’t open until for another two and half weeks. I have done this in the past when I have been invited to a preview screening and have seen some great films that I knew little or nothing about including Intacto (2001), The Pianist (2002) and The History Boys (2006). I have also seen some terrible movies that I wish I hadn’t seen including Party Monster (2003) and Dreamgirls (2006). This was different, it wasn’t an invitation only event, it was a well publicised packed house. While waiting for the for the movie to start I got talking to the person next to me, it turned out he actually worked for the cinema and even he didn’t know what the movie would be. He found out about five minutes before the res of us but was sworn to secrecy. When the movie was revelled I did wonder if the man wearing the “Games Games Games” T shirt and the man in the Facebook T’shirt already knew or if it was a coincidence. I took my usual place in the centre of the first row of stadium seating and noticed the front rows were filling quicker than the back rows as you would expect for a big movie. A true sign of a movie geek/loving audience! The other noticeable thing about audience was how well the followed “the code of conduct” there was no talking during the movie and little, noise/smell of food distracting from the enjoyment of the movie. I did wonder when booking by tickets how many people would turn up to see an unknown movie at 8:15 on a Monday evening, especially given the fact the weather outside had begun to resemble the summer that we are allegedly nearing the middle of. The aforementioned near full house, in one of the cinemas largest screens answered my question. So the experience was a good one but was the movie?
In a word yes. Don’t get me wrong, Now You See Me isn’t a masterpiece that will live long in the memory, but it was a fun crowd-pleasing movie that was perfect for the occasion:
Four stage magicians/illusionists calling themselves The Four Horsemen appear to rob a bank in Paris without leaving the stage during a live performance is Las Vegas. An FBI agent and an Interpol detective team up to track them down with the help of a man who has made his name and fortune revealing and debunking magic tricks.
It comes as no surprise that director Louis Leterrier made his name with action movies (The Transporter 1&2, Unleashed, The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans). The movie only has a couple of ig set piece action scenes, but they are particularly well handled. The movie also plays out at a breakneck pace with its near tow hour running time flying buy. This has two effects, it keeps the audience interested but it also stops them thinking too much about the holes and implausibilities in the plot.
The cast is great with Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson having a lot of fun with the characters as does Mark Ruffalo. Mélanie Laurent is wasted but does what she can with in part that promises much but actually doesn’t do much. It’s a similar story with Isla Fisher and Dave (brother of James) Franco who only really have one good scene each away fro the stage shows. The supporting cast includes Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine who are perfect for there small but significant roles. The greatest issue with the movie is the fantastic cast; it helps highlight who thin and underwritten the characters are. The charisma and likeability of the actors prevents it form being a disaster. In lesser hands the audience would not buy into the movie of feel anything for the characters, however better characters could have resulted in a more memorable movie like The Sting (1973) or Oceans Eleven (2001 not 1960).
As mentioned the plot is thin and implausible, but again it gets away with partly because of the cast, partly the pace but mainly because it packs so much into two hour. There are plenty of twists, turns and reveals, some you will see coming, others you probably won’t. This in itself is a clever metaphor for illusions and stage magic. The characters keep reminding us of distractions and illusions, so the overriding plot of the movie is a whodunit, that keeps reminding us that it is a whodunit.
How much you like the movie may depend of how much you saw coming, too much and it would be dull, too little and you just weren’t watching it, but ultimately it’s the performances particularly from Eisenberg and Harrelson that will win you over. I don’t give star rating any longer, if I did it would probably be a solid 3 out of 5. It isn’t the best movie I have seen this week, but it is one enjoyed and I will have no problem in recommending it to friends when it opens next month. And that can be the only reason for the preview screening. There were no questionnaires to be used for publicity purposes. The only reason I can see for the cinema previewing the movie is for word of mouth and to give something back to their most loyal customers, keeping them happy loyal.