'Now You See Me' raises the following quandary. If you enjoy the first third of a film for its own merits - the clever camera-work, interesting characters and whip-smart dialogue - get a bit confused in the middle, and then spend the last third laughing at how preposterous the whole thing's got, is that enough reason for a trip to the cinema? Probably, but you tell me.
Because that's exactly what you'll get with 'Now You See Me', which I can't tell you too much about without ruining it. So, proceeding carefully, it tells the story of a group of illusionists - Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco (brother of James) - recruited by a mysterious benefactor to pull off a series of increasingly stupendous heists, robberies from which they then reward their audiences with the money.
As their tricks become, on the face of it, criminal acts, eg somehow robbing a Parisian bank from the stage in New Orleans, FBI detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is put on their trail, before he finds himself becoming part of their trickery.
It starts so well, by which I mean it starts exactly like 'The Social Network', with that film 's star Eisenberg outwitting policemen and investigators, with his customary flippant, smart-Alec schtick. And his peers are equally sly, unpredictable and, initially at least, interesting.
It's a film that desperately wants to be as clever as 'The Prestige', with some devil-within business of 'Dark Knight' thrown in. To those ends, it's naturally called upon the services of noble cinematic bookends Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, who behave pretty much exactly as you would expect of each of them.
What of the rest of the cast? You'd think you'd be safe with the combined talents of clever Eisenberg, appealing Isla Fisher and the ever-likeable scruffy charms of Mark Ruffalo. But as the film gathers pace, chases start replacing dialogue, and the narrative twists become muffled by the dustballs along the freeway and fight-scenes in staircases. But this isn't the major problem...
My far bigger problem is that illusionists are clever, cunning master technicians, we know that. And part of the wonder of the work of David Copperfield, Derren Brown et al is our having no idea of how they've achieved their seemingly miraculous illusions. It gives us a chance, temporary but willingly volunteered, to conspire in them, dispel our cynicism and put our faith in some higher power, if only intelligence.
Put those same tricks on the big screen as part of a narrative drama, however, and how can we possibly ooh and aah along with the audience? We know we're watching a FILM for heaven's sake. All the masterful trickery is in the hands of the post-production crew. Well, big deal. We've seen dinosaurs walking across cars, and Wookies driving spaceships. A girl floating in a bubble isn't exactly going to stop the presses.
'The Prestige' overcame this necessary limitation with a wealth of character and story that made the tricks and fantasies mere instruments to the whole, whereas here it's meant to be integral.
Will you be hanging onto your seat trying to catch all the narrative twists and turns? No, you'll be hanging on because you've gone numb after a gratuitous last half-hour when you really shouldn't be there. But don't leave, because you'll miss the final last hurrah that had the cinema laughing out loud in bits when we really weren't supposed to.
But, like I said, there's much to enjoy along the way. And we had a great time in the pub afterwards coming up with lines like 'Now You See Me... Not If I can help it' and 'Now You see Me... at the ticket office, asking for my money back'. See, who says going to the cinema can't be fun these days?
'Now You See Me' is in cinemas from today. Watch the trailer below...