Grand Illusions

Clockwise from bottom left: Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson star in “Now You See Me.”
Clockwise from bottom left:
Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson star in “Now You See Me.”

Once, back when I was in high school, I watched magicians Penn & Teller appear on Letterman. Their act involved throwing things at a running chipper-shredder, whereupon the things would be thoroughly chipped and shredded. At one point, Penn & Teller seemingly threw in a white, long-eared bunny, sending fur and blood everywhere. After their segment, to reassure the audience, they brought out an unhurt bunny: a brown, shorter-eared rabbit. One trick, two jaw-drops.

I love magic, and what I love best about it is that everyone involved knows it’s not real (Penn & Teller did not throw a bunny into a chipper-shredder), but both audience and performer pretend that it is (the white bunny never reappeared).

“Now You See Me,” opening Friday, manages to walk that line just as well as any Vegas show. While some of the movie’s magic is real, much of it is CGI or helped along by editing. And while it’s clear to anyone with a brain that Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson did not really leap off a building and turn into money, part of the fun of the film is believing that, somehow, they did.

“Now You See Me” plays on what magic is: a dance between performer and audience in which the performer attempts to convince us he’s doing what he’s saying he’s doing and we pretend to believe him. If he does it right, we do believe, if only for a second (poor little white bunny).

The tricks in “Now You See Me” push the boundaries of physics and, quite frankly, reality. But the film — and magic itself — isn’t always about belief. Sometimes it’s just about pure fun, and that’s what “Now You See Me” does best.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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