For an actor, a role that requires him or her to learn a few sleight-of-hand tricks is probably enticement enough to take a role as a magician; it's fun, it's showy, and it's something to replicate at a party. But the four leads of Now You See Me — Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco — get to learn cool illusions AND use those skills as vigilantes helping to make victims of the 2008 financial crisis whole again. What performer could resist a pitch like that?
Now You See Me revolves around The Four Horsemen, as the magicians are known, taking direction from the mysterious, anonymous benefactor who brought them together. Mark Ruffalo plays the FBI agent tasked to investigate them when one of their illusions turns out to involve theft of cash from a very real French bank; Mélanie Laurent is the French cop who joins him. The two have an enjoyable mood-mismatch chemistry, but the illusionists are obviously the real stars: Franco holds his own among the Oscar nominees and winners, and Eisenberg has maybe never talked faster than he does here. It's fun if you don't subject it to too much scrutiny — and a sequel is coming, so you might as well see how the story begins.
I’m in a cinematic moral quandary this weekend. I want to support non-franchise-based summer blockbusters so that studios might eventually one day permit a trickle of original stories between May and August. But just looking at After Earth’s bad–Kriss Kross–album cover billboards makes me long for the safety of a generic, brainless summer sequel. Seriously, all I want is empty escapism, not Will Smith’s $100 million CGI’d home movies. Fortunately, Now You See Me (whose ad campaign probably can’t compete with the glare from M. Night Shyamalan’s ego) offers an alternative. It’s got Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg. and magic!
It’s also a great opportunity to catch up with Jesse Eisenberg, who is responsible for countless smart-ass students telling their English teachers, "You have part of my attention, the minimum amount.” Eisenberg’s an unlikely icon — a neurotic, sardonic leading man just as comfortable in action comedies like Zombieland as he is in slick critiques of a generation. (The Social Network.) Seriously, whenever turn-of-the-21st-century nostalgia hits its stride, Jesse Eisenberg movie marathons will be a thing. Until then, read on to find out that, yes, Jesse knows how they do all the magic tricks in the movie, and ones that aren’t — he just isn’t telling.
Taking a quick gander into the darker reaches of Mark Ruffalo's back catalog, it turns out, is very much a worthwhile thing to do. See, before he broke out for good, as Laura Linney's scruffy screw-up younger brother in 2000's You Can Count on Me, Ruffalo did some serious bouncing around: One scene in Corbin Bernsen's cavitysploitation thriller The Dentist, as a borderline slimy modeling scout. Supporting roles in the evocatively titled, completely forgotten indies The Destiny of Marty Fine and The Last Big Thing. A part in Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance, as a character named Christian. A part in Mirror, Mirror III: The Voyeur, as a different character, named Joey. (Also: He claims to have diagnosed his own brain tumor, by dreaming about it.)
Then, since 2000, an increasingly varied and pedigreed résumé, peaking with his biggest role to date, as the Hulk in The Avengers (and its many sequels to come). But if there's another through line to the Tale of Mark Ruffalo other than his gradual ascension to the leading ranks of American cinema, it's this: The guy is always playing cops. Like, all the damn time.
But it's never your regular cop archetypes, oh no. The Average Joe lunch-pail guy? The hotshot as handy with the steel as he is with the one-liner? Mark Ruffalo seeks not these things. His cops are always a bit more sensitive, a bit more honest, as often beset by problems internally as externally; you can see ’em sweat. While not the flashiest adjective when it comes to police work, it seems the most applicable word here would be "harried." With Now You See Me, the populist-magic-bank-heist caper in theaters this week, our dude will be playing, according to our calculations, his sixth harried cop. Now, shall we take a walk down Mark Ruffalo's memory lane?
Silver: I’ve come back around on Ron Howard. For me, the hyperbolic sentimentality of his films and his overly lavish set pieces always felt like he was trying too hard. I tend to not like films that are so blatantly campaigning for an Oscar, and would rather a film’s innate importance be a tad subtler. But after recently catching Backdraft and Apollo 13 on cable, I went back and rewatched the entire Howard catalogue, and it became clear that my ire against his filmography was a case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch.
Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, and Angels & Demons are just poorly produced, pedantic movies. But there’s a certain earnestness and genuineness to the vast majority of his other films that, as I went title-by-title, came to be a welcome antidote to the cynicism inherent in so many films released today. Even in the titles some folks might consider to be weaker — The Missing, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Paper — ol’ Opie's heart bleeds through every frame.
In the two weeks since our last post, a glut of trailers flooded the Internet, some good, some bad, some in between. So in an effort to be as thorough as possible and dedicate at least a few words to these cinematic appetizers, we reached way back into our arsenal of gimmicks to bring back the “One-Sentence Trailer Reviews.” Like last time, one of us had an easier time sticking to the plan than the other. (Guess who?)
Rembert and Dan
Now You See Me (June 7)
Silver: I had no idea Now You See Me existed, but after watching the trailer for this Prestige/Ocean’s Eleven/Robin Hood/Social Network/Batman Begins mash-up, it has quickly jumped to the top of my 2013 “must” list.
Browne: The only item on my "things that really don't exist" list that tops zombies and owls is magic. NEXT.
Steve Carell will star in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, the long-gestating movie about John du Pont, paranoid schizophrenic heir to the du Pont chemical fortune. In 1996, in the wrestling-training facility he built called Team Foxcatcher, du Pont shot and killed his friend David Schultz, an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler, then shut himself in his mansion negotiating with the police over the phone for two days. Wait — Steve Carell is going to murder someone? He better be practicing his serious face. Grade: A- [Showblitz]
Woody Harrelson is in talks for Now You See Me, a heist movie also starring Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Isla Fisher, and Melanie Laurent. Woody would play a magician who uses his Jedi-mind-tricks style in the services of the Four Horsemen, a crew of gentlemen-illusionist-bank-robbers who pull off their heists during their performances, then dole out the money to the crowds. Oh, you crazy-ass sounding movie, you had us at "Jedi mind tricks." Grade: A [Showblitz]
Following Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence back to TV will be Roseanne Barr, who just signed a script deal with 20th Century Fox TV to write Downwardly Mobile, a sitcom about an "an optimistic blue-collar family living in hard times." Casting is underway for a third Becky. Grade: B+ [Deadline]
Mark Wahlberg will broaden his horizons with a role as a law-enforcement official in 2 Guns, an adaptation of Steven Grant's graphic novel about a DEA agent and an undercover naval officer who waste tax dollars by investigating each other as each steals money from the mob in the line of duty. Exiting the project, which has been kicking around for a while, are Vince Vaughn and David O. Russell, who must have just realized there's no law that says he has to direct only Mark Wahlberg movies. Grade B [HR]
Martin Lawrence is negotiating with CBS to produce and star in a new sitcom. No word yet on a premise or costars, but since Lawrence's return to TV could presumably thwart a fourth Big Momma's House movie, this one gets our full blessing. Grade: A [Vulture]
Mark Ruffalo and Amanda Seyfried will star in Now You See Me, about a group of magicians who rob banks during their performances and shower their audiences in money. (They'll join the previously announced Jesse Eisenberg and Melanie Laurent.) Ruffalo will be an FBI agent and Seyfried will, naturally, play "a master technician who builds contraptions to aid in the illusion of heists." Grade: B+ [Variety]