There's not a lot of magic in "Now You See Me," even though the film's milieu is prestidigitation.

There are digital special effects aplenty the kind of cinematic magic we expect in sci-fi, fantasy and action films.

The special effects cannot distract from a weak screenplay with half-baked plot and lack of character development.

"Now You See Me" inadvertently proves a motto said in the film by one of the magicians: "The closer you look, the less you see."

While the movie is about legerdemain, the deception is that it is a crime-thriller and not a very good one at that.

For the first trick at their MGM Grand Las Vegas casino show, the magicians rob a bank in Paris and then distribute the money to the audience. At their second show, they deplete the bank account of their financial backer. Their third trick is to empty the money in a security vault.

Lame explanations, digital dazzle, and a preposterous plot device, that of the air duct, right out of the late Roger Ebert's "The Little Book of Hollywood Cliches," are sleight-of-script gimmicks.

"Now You See Me" squanders the talents of an excellent cast.

Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network," "Zombieland") is J. Daniel Atlas, who does card tricks. Woody Harrelson ("The Hunger Games," "Zombieland"), as Merritt McKinney, is a mind reader and hypnotist. Isla Fisher (TV's "Arrested Development") is Henley Reeves, an escape artist.

Dave Franco ("Warm Bodies," TV's "Scrubs") is Jack Wilder, a mentalist-martial arts expert. Mark Ruffalo ("The Avengers," "The Kids Are All Right") is Dylan Rhodes, an FBI agent. Melanie Laurent ("Beginners," "Don't Worry, I'm Fine") is Alma Dray) is an Interpol agent.

Michael Caine (Arthur Tressler) is the wealthy backer of The Four Horsemen, as the four magicians are billed. Morgan Freeman (Thaddeus Bradley) is a TV show personality who investigates the world of sleight-of-hand artists.

The screenwriters seem to have spent more time on devising clever character names than a solid plot line.

There a few good dialogue scenes between the lead actors, but far too few. In addition to the special effects, a "French Connection" style New York City car chase, a chase on foot, explosions, fire, and fisticuffs are tossed into the mix.

Director Louis Leterrier ("Clash of the Titans," "The Incredible Hulk," "Transporter 1, 2," "Unleashed") seems better suited to action films than actor-driven films.

The screenplay-by-committee is: Ed Solomon ("Charlie's Angels," "What Planet Are You From?," "Men In Black," "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"), Boaz Yakin ("Safe," "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," "A Price Above Rubies") and newcomer Edward Ricourt from a story by Yakin and Ricourt.

The key to successful magic, we are told in "Now You See Me," is misdirection.

The "Now You See Me" film-makers took that advice literally.

"Now You See Me," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13) for language, some action and sexual content; Genre: Crime, Thriller; Run time: 1 hour, 45 minutes; Distributed by Summit Entertainment-Lionsgate Films.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Now You See Me" was filmed on location in Las Vegas, New York City, New Orleans and Paris.

Box Office, June 7: "The Purge" opened at No. 1, with $36.3 million, passing "Fast & Furious 6," which dropped to No. 2, $19.7 million, $202 million, three weeks;

3. "Now You See Me," $19.5 million, $61.3 million, two weeks; 4. "The Internship," $18.1 million, opening; 5. "Epic," $12.1 million, $84.1 million, three weeks; 6. "Star Trek Into Darkness," $11.7 million; $200.1 million, four weeks; 7. "After Earth," $11.2 million, $46.5 million, two weeks; 8. "The Hangover Part III," $7.3 million, $102.3 million, three weeks; 9. "Iron Man 3," $5.7 million, $394.3 million, six weeks; 10. "The Great Gatsby," $4.2 million, $136 million, five weeks

Unreel, June 14:

"Man of Steel," PG-13" The Superman franchise gets a new look, new actor in the title role (Henry Cavill of TV's "The Tudors") and new plot line. Clark Kent-Superman battles invading aliens his own in the sci-fi action film directed by Zack Snyder ("Watchmen," "300") that also stars Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Laurence Fishburne.

"This Is The End," R: The apocalypse looms during a party at James Franco's house in the comedy co-directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com and the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com [1].

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes