FILM REVIEW – NOW YOU SEE ME 2. With Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan. Written by Ed Solomon. Directed by Jon M. Chu. Rated PG-13 for violence and some language. 129 minutes.
Success at stage magic can require many things: manual dexterity, stage presence, the right equipment. However, one of the most important things is seemingly simple. It’s the ability to misdirect the attention of the audience so that they’re looking in the wrong place. To pull it off in the movies seems a cheat because whether it’s through editing or computer wizardry, it’s all too easy to make illusions seem real.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2, a sequel to the 2013 movie, reunites nearly all of the original cast (Isla Fisher, who reportedly had to drop out because she was pregnant, is replaced by Lizzy Caplan). The Four Horsemen are magicians who have staged elaborate Robin Hood-style robberies as part of their act. Now Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Jack (Dave Franco) and newcomer Lula (Lizzy Caplan) find themselves kidnapped by Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who wants them to steal a new bit of high tech that will allow him access to every electronic device in the world.
The plot brings them to Macao, where various story strands interesect. They intend to pull off the heist without turning the goods over to Mabry. Meanwhile, Dylan (Mark Ruffalo), an FBI agent supposedly looking for them but really working with them, is in pursuit. Also back are Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a debunker of magic who ended the last film in a jail cell, and Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), a crooked billionaire who ended up on the wrong end of one their stunts. While the plot is complicated, the storytelling is not. We may get misdirected from time to time, but we’re never at a loss as to what’s going on.
Like “The Avengers,” indeed, like any 1970s workplace sitcom, the movie is about a bunch of comical misfits who have to work together without driving each other crazy. For all the needling and one-upsmanship, they really do like each other and the film lets us see that. The heist scene turns into an extended card trick. Watching the choreography of the four of them is one of the film’s highlights.
As with real stage magic, some of the film tricks work better than others, but when they are revealed many of the real illusions turn out to be quite impressive. Some of the others are just contrived (as in how they get to Macao in the first place) but the film handles it with just the sort of cheekiness such things deserve. It doesn’t really matter, the filmmakers seem to be saying, we’re just setting the story in motion.
Curmudgeonly critic John Simon once argued that movies should either be great art or “damn good entertainment.” No one will confuse “Now You See Me 2” for an art film. It is, however, damn good entertainment.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.