I suppose somewhere out there was an audience anxiously awaiting a follow-up to 2013’s wildly uneven “Now You See Me”. Still, you can call it the sequel I never expected. But modern day trends seem to indicate that when you bring in over $350 million at the box office against a $75 million budget chances are good the studio will push out another one.
So now we get the shrewdly titled “Now You See Me 2” with a slightly higher budget and slightly less money made at the box office. Still, $335 million is nothing to laugh at and apparently the series has its fans. Well they should be happy. “NYSM2” is more of the same – silly, a bit kooky actually, and all over the map.
Roughly eighteen months after slipping through the fingers of the Feds, The Four Horseman (the pop stars of the magic world) await their next assignment from The Eye, the goofy secret cabal of magicians revealed in the first film. They get their next job but are thwarted and exposed by a mystery man who also outs their FBI insider Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).
The Horseman (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and new member Lizzy Kaplan) are abducted by a weaselly, off-the-grid tech wiz named Walter (Daniel Radcliffe). He brings the crew to Macau and blackmails them into swiping a computer device called “the stick”. Director John Chu (perhaps best known for the “Step Up” movies) goes the full “Ocean’s 11” route. In other words the film is not just trying to be a heist movie. It’s trying to be a really cool one.
But there is also Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine returning from the first film. Both have their own angles, both of which intersects with Ruffalo. Add in a few new characters – Radcliffe who is pretty good and Caplan who is fine. But there is also Woody Harrelson in the second of his dual roles playing Merritt’s identical twin. It’s a wacky performance, a stunningly bad character and an even worse wig.
And then there is the magic – rarely ever genuine illusion. Instead the majority is glaringly computer-generated making any impressive “Presto” moments all but nonexistent. And when they do try to offer up some form of explanation it’s too absurd to be taken seriously or with humor. There is the key heist scene which is actually pretty fun. It’s preposterous beyond measure and requires some of the worst security guards on the globe. But it’s an entertaining bit if you’re able to turn off your brain.
There is some occasional good chemistry between the Horseman and there are moments when you think the movie is going to fully embrace its corniness. I wish it had. Instead the smoke-and-mirrors story flies all over the place and never firmly lands anywhere. It’s a messy movie but not quite fun enough to call a glorious mess. Perhaps it is marginally better than the first film but I could never say that with any hint of confidence.
VERDICT – 2 STARS