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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Now You See Me 2  (2016)
1½ Stars
Directed by Jon M. Chu.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine, Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou, Tsai Chin, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Justine Wachsberger, Ben Lamb, David Warshofsky, Richard Laing.
2016 – 115 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and some language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 3, 2016.
It is stressed throughout "Now You See Me 2" how important it is for renegade magicians The Four Horsemen to work together "as one organism." For a film all about camaraderie—even one where they collectively race around, yet exhibit little interpersonal connection with each other—it comes as hypocritical and disingenuous that this infamous quartet is missing one of its original members from 2013's surprise sleeper hit "Now You See Me." Unsympathetically shut out of the proceedings is Isla Fisher (reportedly pregnant at the time of filming), whose Henley Reeves is disrespected by Ed Solomon's (2009's "Imagine That") arguably sexist screenplay when it curtly suggests she wanted out of the group following a romantic break-up with Jesse Eisenberg's J. Daniel Atlas. Because, you know, it's always the female who gets emotional and isn't mature enough to separate her personal life from her professional one. With the obligatory need for someone to fill her shoes, Solomon devises the forced introduction of Lula (Lizzy Caplan), who cheerily declares, "I'm the girl Horseman!" once she is brought into the fold. Tongue in cheek though this line may be, it is also worthy of an eyebrow-raise—much like virtually every other minute in this disposably empty-headed sequel.

Anarchic magic team The Four Horsemen have been in hiding from the FBI for 18 months, having pulled off an ingenious NYC-based illusion on their way to moving closer to learning the secrets behind a coveted underground organization known as The Eye. With Horsemen mastermind Special Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) still playing both sides of the law, members J. Daniel Atlas, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are joined by Lula (Lizzy Caplan) as they prepare for a surprise reemergence at an OCTA tech company conference. When their performance is unexpectedly hijacked by a pixilated mystery figure as the authorities close in, their narrow escape sends them to Macau—"It's the Vegas of China!"—and into the clutches of Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), the presumed-dead former co-head of OCTA. Walter wants the Four Horsemen to pull off the impossible heist of a heavily guarded microchip, and he is willing to blackmail them with their lives to get it.

"Now You See Me 2" is more of the same, the viewers' taste for the film largely dependent on whether or not they took to the first picture. For those not quite as enamored by "Now You See Me," this strained continuation repeats the same mistakes. Director Jon M. Chu (2013's "G.I. Joe: Retaliation") takes over for Louis Letterier, but the globe-trotting modern mod style and tissue-slim characters have been faithfully retained. Dylan Rhodes continues to blame a tragedy from his past on magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), whom he has framed and sent to prison, but he finds himself seeking Thaddeus' help to locate the missing Horsemen. Beyond this, the people on the screen are recognizable faces without anything behind their physical visages. The script gives the actors forgettable things to say and no facets to explore. New to the series, Lizzy Kaplan (2012's "Bachelorette") brings acerbic energy to Lula, but the unfortunate task of having to key into the missing spot left by Isla Fisher, while Sanaa Lathan (2011's "Contagion") is given nothing to do as FBI Agent Natalie Austin. But, then, that goes for most of the underutilized ensemble.

The Horsemen are outright criminals, breaking laws, causing chaos and putting occasional lives in danger simply so they can learn the cockamamie secrets of The Eye. Why viewers should like or care about these unpleasant, posturing individuals is never divulged. One expects the incorporation of Merritt's twin brother Chase (Woody Harrelson, in a dual role) to add up to more than it does, but the movie also squanders this quirky development and its one chance for an actually clever sleight of hand. As smarmy central bad guy Walter Mabry, Daniel Radcliffe (2014's "Horns") is well-cast as a tech whiz, but doesn't exactly strike an intimidating figure.

A tedious chase movie and heist caper in one, "Now You See Me 2" culminates in a series of elaborate, seemingly impossible illusions taking place across London on New Year's Eve—quite amazing not for the tricks themselves, but for the reveal that it is taking place on December 31 when there has not been a single sign prior to this that the story is occurring during the holiday season. This newfound knowledge also puts an earlier scene set at the OCTA tech conference in perspective; there is no way this would have been held right at Christmas. Is this observation a nitpick? Not really, when it is systemic of the haphazard and neglectful construction of the film as a whole. "Now You See Me 2" isn't exciting, funny or surprising, its most effective moment a throwaway one involving a guillotine. As the full nature of the Horsemen's final master trick is explained via clumsy, clunky exposition, the film as a whole evaporates into thin air.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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