(2016) (Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A quartet of magicians, known for exposing corrupt corporate types, must contend with being manipulated into attempting to pull off a seemingly impossible heist.
- Eighteen months after the events of the first film when a quartet of magicians turned against insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (MICHAEL CAINE) for denying customer claims and then redistributed a lot of his wealth, while also framing former magician turned debunker Thaddeus Bradley (MORGAN FREEMAN) for theft, three members of the Four Horseman are still working together. They are J. Daniel Atlas (JESSE EISENBERG), Merritt McKinney (WOODY HARRELSON) and Jack Wilder (DAVE FRANCO), and are soon joined by crafty magician Lula (LIZZY CAPLAN) to fill out the quartet once again.
They operate under a secret organization known as The Eye, with FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (MARK RUFFALO) working undercover as their liaison with the group that arranges for their next gig to expose fraud on a corporate scale. But during that, their show is interrupted, and when the FBI led by agent Natalie Austin (SANAA LATHAN) storms the event, they scramble to the roof and escape down a construction chute, only to somehow find themselves halfway around the world in Macau.
There, they not only meet Merritt's twin brother, Chase (WOODY HARRELSON), who still holds a grudge toward him for breaking up their brotherly magic act long ago, but also Walter Mabry (DANIEL RADCLIFFE), a wealthy man who faked his death a year ago and is the one responsible for the Four Horseman being in Macau. It seems he invented a special computer chip that a business associate took credit for and kicked him out of their company, and he now wants the magicians to steal it back. To do so, they visit a local magic shop run by Li (JAY CHOU) and his grandmother (TSAI CHIN), a place that has a connection to Dylan's father who perished in a magic act decades ago.
Knowing they must use all of their skills to steal the chip from an ultra-secure, high-tech facility, the magicians also plot how to get back at and expose those who are manipulating them.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
- In terms of magic acts, most boil down to three things. There's the introduction of the magician and, if applicable, their professional or audience selected assistants. That's followed by the setup where we're essentially told what the act will be comprised of, including what the intended goal appears to be. And that's followed by the payoff where the actual "magic" is performed, usually to the astonishment of those watching, often because what ultimately occurs is grander than what was anticipated.
Movies, at least those of the successful variety, essentially follow a similar blueprint where the characters are introduced, the situation or task at hand is explained, and there's the big finale where said goal is accomplished (or, rarely, not), sometimes with some deception, trickery or magic that makes the feat seem bigger than originally anticipated.
2013's "Now You See Me" seemed destined to be a highly entertaining combo of the two, what with its tale of a quartet of magicians who were assembled to pull off elaborate heists where the end results were something greater than the initial plan. Alas, while it started off with a bang and seemed to be building toward something great, it sort of fell apart, no doubt hurt by the filmmakers seeming intent on having to explain and describe how things were accomplished.
It's one thing for a film like the 2001 remake of "Ocean's Eleven" to describe the plan and then have us watch the characters in play try to pull it off. It's another when we first see it and then have it explained afterward, and that's part of what brought down "NYSM" and continues to bedevil many of the same characters in the imaginatively titled sequel, "Now You See Me 2."
It follows up around eighteen months after the conclusion of the first film. Michael Caine's corrupt insurance magnate has lost a lot of money and his former magician turned debunker played by Morgan Freeman is in jail after being framed by the Four Horseman. They're still in action (although Isla Fisher, apparently not fond of a reported near drowning experience filming the original, has left the show), with the characters played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson and new-to-the-fold Lizzy Caplan still getting their corporate takedown marching orders from a mysterious organization known as The Eye.
While FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still pretending to be on the case trying to find the magicians, they end up somehow instantly transported from a show stateside to Macau. There, they not only run into one's twin (also played by Woody Harrelson as if channeling Matthew McConaughey), but also a rich and obviously scheming guy (Daniel Radcliffe) who manipulates them into trying to pull off an elaborate and seemingly impossible heist.
That ends up being the film's crown jewel sequence as a playing card, holding the desired computer chip, is moved from magician to magician and out of sight of many a security guard via sleight of hand. Some of it's obviously computer generated (the flight of the card around the high-tech facility is certainly faked), but it's still entertaining to behold. Alas, just like in any magic act, you don't want the best part to be in the middle, but that's what screenwriter Ed Solomon and director Jon M. Chu have done.
Sure, there's more subterfuge and "magic" that follows, along with various character revelations and, yes, explanations of how the trickery was pulled off. But having a decent sequence in the middle raises the bar for what's left, and the film can't deliver, with the last big magic related sequence -- that goes on for a long time -- simply not able to match that.
And thus, as was the case with the first film, the overall experience feels like a let-down. Magic should make one wonder and debate how it was done, and movies about the subject matter should certainly follow suit. "Now You See Me 2" has lots of elements and trickery in its act, but by the time the final reveal occurs (and, alas, is explained in detail), we don't really care. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed May 25, 2016 / Posted June 10, 2016
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