I reluctantly enjoyed Louis Leterrier surprise hit Now You See Me, at least for its ability to entertain. It’s a film that starts off strong — even with its goofy premise based on a group of thieving magicians. It starts fun in the way Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001) does, but can’t quite keep up the momentum and unravels into a pile of convoluted plot threads and needless goofiness. This continues, unfortunately, into Jon M. Chu’s Now You See Me 2, a film that feels structured more like a soap opera than a heist flick. From the onset, it twists and turns on itself (and even its predecessor), focusing more on “clever” plot twists than on entertainment. At the same time, it never manages to do the one thing Now You See Me managed to occasionally accomplish — making the magic aspect of the film actually palatable.
The film picks up with our Robin Hood-like heroes, The Four Horseman, in hiding. After pulling off the numerous heists of the first film and draining the bank account of the uber-rich Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the group — along with FBI plant and team leader Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) — is ready for their next target, a tech mogul (Ben Lamb, Divergent) who has no qualms about giving away his customers’ privacy. But the Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and new token woman Horseman Lizzy Caplan) find themselves outed and on the lam. They soon find out they’ve been recruited by another tech genius (Daniel Radcliffe), who has faked his death and wants The Horsemen’s talents to steal some sort of microchip from a heavily guarded building. At the same time, Dylan, not knowing where his friends have been whisked away to, looks to Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman), the professional magic debunker the Horsemen got put in jail at the end of the first film, for help.
The film only builds on its plot-heavy self from here, applying more and more plot as the reels move along, all the while showing the practical side of magic and sleight-of-hand, I guess. There’s an overwhelming phoniness to the whole movie, from the secret-society nonsense to the overt use of CGI and bad club music. Some of the film is fun (mostly — like the big microchip heist — it is silly), but there’s this nonstop need to surprise the audience that drags things down. This is especially true if you understand the mechanics of the plot and the way the film works. Once you have the film’s “tricks” down, there’s little surprising here and any sense of tension disappears. Everything’s going to turn out in the Horsemen’s favor, and you can probably guess how if you pay even a little attention. A lot of this is due to a hokey script, something surprising with such a big-name cast. Now You See Me 2 can hold your attention for a couple hours if you don’t mind having your intelligence insulted in the bargain. Rated PG-13 for violence and some language.
Playing at Carmike 10, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher.