It’s all about the tricks in magicians’ tale

Film review: Now You See Me 2

Now You See Me 2. Directed by Jon M. Chu. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, Dave Franco and Mark Ruffalo.
Rating: 7 (out of 10)

The commercial success of 2013’s Now You See Me was something of a trick, transforming a $75 million budget into a $350 million payday.

So while a sequel was a foregone conclusion, a decent one was far from certain. But director Jon M. Chu knows a thing or two about spinning fluffy content into pleasing follow-ups (having directed Step Ups 2 and 3) and crafts a film that is livelier – if even more nonsensical – than the original.

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It starts with an audacious trick based on that old saw about “tunneling to China,” when our heroes jump down a tube slide to evade capture and emerge, yup, in China. (In an obvious effort to please that mammoth market, we spend a fair amount of time there.) Sure it’s ridiculous, but your enjoyment of the next two hours is directly correlated to how much you want this to be true.

Riding the tube are several of the original cast: J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). Three of The Four Horsemen, smart-alecky illusionists who steal from corporate swindlers and give back to the 99 percenters, Robin Hood style. Lizzy Caplan replaces Isla Fisher as the fourth Horseman: maybe it’s hanging around all of those pervs on Masters of Sex, but her Lula can more than handle all that sexist sorcery.

Mark Ruffalo once again plays FBI agent/secret boss Dylan Rhodes, who should be on the case but instead has a big personal reason for going off-book and seeking justice, thanks to some tragic magic in the early ‘80s. His character’s history and vendetta against magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, back again) is the least convincing thread of the film, if you don’t count the terrifically silly appearance of Woody Harrelson’s twin brother.

Smoke and mirrors, 2016-style, consists of data theft and some new-fangled computer chip that can manipulate computers worldwide. Pulling the strings – at least for a moment – is billionaire whiner Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe). Radcliffe returns to the world of wizardry with this film but Harry Potter fans hoping to see the actor wave a wand around will be disappointed, though Radcliffe is clearly loving every moment of his tech-world sleazeball role.

It’s all about the tricks, as the characters remain mired in stereotype: Atlas is a terminally annoying wiseacre; McKinney is a doofus hangin’ with the kids; Wilder is nothing more than a sexy grin who can do magic. In an effort to justify Fisher’s absence, perhaps, Lula alone gets a little more edge to her role.

“The closer you look, the less you see” truism from the first film applies directly to the script here, again written by Ed Solomon. Filmmakers create plenty of misdirection of their own: the flash and pulsing energy that drives us from one showy set-piece to another serve to distract from a pellucid plot. But the story hardly matters; as the lazy title suggests, we’re just here to have a good time, and director Jon M. Chu knows how to make two hours of your life disappear.

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