‘Now You See Me 2’ Review: Magic for (and by) Dummies

'Now You See Me 2'

Movie Rating:

3

It would be hard to defend ‘Now You See Me’ as a good movie. The ridiculous magic heist fantasy was far too silly and stupid (willfully and otherwise) for that. However, it was a fun movie often as amusing when it went wildly wrong as when it delivered genuine thrills and laughs. When I admit to enjoying ‘Now You See Me 2’, it comes with certain qualifications.

This flick is rather stupid and quite cheesy when it isn’t being knowingly campy and clever. The series is slowly turning into “Fast & Furious with card tricks.” It’s a dumb franchise that’s lovable in its excesses, and it has enough smart people involved that they may all be acutely aware of the enjoyable idiocy they’ve delivered.

Things kick off shortly after the last movie. Mark Ruffalo, who played the detective tracking the superstar magicians last time, is now their leader, taking orders from the mysterious order of magicians known as “The Eye” (a group so mysterious, not even Ruffalo knows who they are or what they want). Jesse Eisenberg is once again the neurotic front man for the gang on stage. Woody Harrelson is the hypnotist in a hat. Dave Franco’s the card trick specialist, and Lizzy Caplan ably replaces Ilsa Fisher as the self-described “girl” in the group and possibly the biggest talent.

Morgan Freeman is locked up after last time, plotting revenge. Before he can strike, the Four Horseman magicians are tricked into a stunt and whisked away to China unexpectedly. Once there, they learn that they’ve been bamboozled by Daniel Radcliffe’s evil-ish business prodigy who faked his own death and now wants the magicians to steal the exciting new internet toy created by his former partner/rival. They agree, but this couldn’t possibly be a trick, right? And even if it is all a big trick, there’s no way our trusty magicians could ever out-trick their tricksters, right? I mean, that’s just not possible…

This is a movie that, much like an actual magic show, requires big heaping helpings of suspension of disbelief. It’s the type of movie where Woody Harrelson doubles down to play his evil twin brother with ridiculous teeth, played as both a cheap visual gag and a serious plot development. The screenplay once again comes from Ed Solomon, who wrote the stupid/smart scripts for the ‘Bill & Ted’ movies and ‘Men in Black’. Given his credentials, it has to be assumed that this whole franchise is meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek. Lord knows the actors are wink-wink, nudge-nudging at all times. That’s part of the fun. Whether it’s Ruffalo going manic to the point of self-parody, Eisenberg pushing his obnoxiously charming act to the breaking point, or Radcliffe just being a big ol’ goof, everyone involved is clearly having a good time and not taking it seriously. The best approach is to shut off your brain and join them. Thinking too much will spoil the logic-free lunacy of the affair. It’s a goof and a lark and there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s done this joyfully.

Directing duties passed from Louis Leterrier to ‘Step Up’ sequel specialist Jon M. Chu, and that kind of works. He shoots the movie like a series of musical set-pieces, even the dialogue scenes. Cameras dance around the actors, who play their roles big enough to bounce off the kinetic visuals. It’s like a big cartoon, with no semblance of reality to slip in and spoil anything. The jokes hit fairly well, especially when the ever-underrated Lizzy Caplan is in charge of delivering the one-liners. (She really steals the movie away from her returning co-stars.) The plot twists that pile on top of other plot twists are always fun, if rarely credible. Even the magic-infused heist sequences fit in well, despite the use of editing and CGI, which prevents any of the tricks from feeling like actual illusions.

As long as anyone watching ‘Now You See Me 2’ dials their brain down to the absurd tone of the movie, it’s hard not to get caught up in the silliness. Sure, a little thought afterwards will poke holes in just about everything, but this isn’t really a movie about tight structure and satisfying subtext. It’s just a big goofy romp executed by talented folks who never strived for anything more. By the time all of the big reveals… err… reveal themselves and the threequel setup is put in place, you might even find yourself hoping for another chapter in this dopey franchise. Everyone involved somehow managed to pull off the same trick twice.

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