First impressions count for so much. This brain-strain heist flick opens with a trick of disarming cleverness. One of the magicians of the Four Horsemen, Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), offers ‘pick a card’ to an onlooker (and, inescapably, to you in the darkened cinema). He performs a sleight of hand then correctly nominates the one card out of fifty-two that his subject (and you!) selected.
I am baffled as to what psychological devilment was involved, and my companion (who had chosen the same card) was equally astounded. From that minute we were riveted.
Atlas’s three cohorts are Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco), each of them a magician with a different field of expertise. They gain renown but step outside the law when they apparently teleport a volunteer from Las Vegas to Paris, where he robs a bank of millions. Enter the old stagers – Tressler (Michael Caine), plutocrat mentor, and Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an ancient myth-buster with teeth whiter than Warnie’s. There is obviously a highly sophisticated and very complex scam being planned, but it is too much to handle for detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), whose approach is that of the bull in a china shop, even with the unwanted assistance of Alma (Mélanie Laurent), a beautiful blond French Interpol cop.
If you are familiar with this type of caper, you’ll appreciate that it is wise to keep in mind the throwaway piece of incidental narrative that is mentioned in an early scene, for it is invariably back to here that the circus is headed. The journey is the fun, and there is much of it to be had in this, even if there is no piece of chicanery to match the opening gambit, the winner being CGI rather than good ol’ fashioned magic. The Four Horsemen play a lesser part in the third act, which is a pity, because Harrelson and Eisenberg are excellent value (I wonder if Eisenberg is such a smartarse in real life?). Good, but not exceptional.