Four magicians (including Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson) are recruited by a mysterious benefactor to do ... something. We don't know what. A year after they are brought together, they perform a show in Las Vegas where a man is picked at random from the audience, teleported into a bank vault half way around the world, and the money from the vault rains down on the audience.
Did they really teleport him, or is it just an illusion? If it was, then how is it the bank was really robbed? The FBI figure they were responsible, they just don't know how they pulled it off. So after questioning and releasing them, an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) follows them to New Orleans to witness their next show.
Going in, I thought this would be a movie about magicians. But it's really a caper film. And the main character is the FBI agent. We spend a lot more time watching him track the magicians than we do with the magicians themselves.
My biggest problem with the movie is the magic acts themselves. As anyone who has ever been to a magic show knows, you know you're watching a trick. The fun is trying to figure out how it was done. Or you don't try, and you just enjoy the illusion. Movies can use editing and special effects to pull off any trick. That's ok, as long as the filmmakers don't make the trick look like CGI. The Prestige was a great example of this. I'm sure they used editing to make it look like Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were pulling off those illusions, but they looked like tricks a human could perform in the real world (except for the teleportation stuff at the end, but that was part of the story).
In this movie, they do tricks that are impossible. For example, when they make the teleportation device appear on stage. Nothing wrong with taking an empty stage, pulling a black cloth in front of the audience, and then having the cloth drop to reveal a big machine. But in this movie, the black cloth has to appear out of thin air and fly around the stage. It's obviously CGI. Also the bit where the magicians blow big bubbles and fly out over the audience is rediculous.
So I would have liked the movie more if they had tried a bit harder to make the magic shows seem like real magic shows. I kept expecting them to reveal that these guys were wizards with real magic power. But in the end, it's all supposed to have been illusion.
Also, the ending kind of ruins it. I won't spoil who the mysterious benefactor is or what his/her motiviations are, but it feels like a letdown.
Anyway, I'm giving the movie 3 stars because I still enjoyed it. Ruffalo carried the story well and I was never bored. Not a bad heist movie.