The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Now You See Me 2

Now You See Me 2 is the latest example of the Sequel With Nowhere To Go. The term refers to movies that exist solely because their self-contained predecessors made money. Films of this sort are left adrift. The originals had stories with clear endings, meaning that the follow-ups are saddled with finding a direction after the story is already over. That's the key difference. Some sequels are pointless, but at least there are still a couple avenues left to explore. SWNTGs, on the other hand, arrive with no avenues. The Hangover Part II, The Hangover Part III, and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 are fine examples, as is the recent Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Now You See Me 2 joins their less-than-illustrious ranks.

The Horseman, a group of highly-skilled magicians, are in hiding when we meet up with them again. FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who is also a key figure in the magic organization known as “The Eye,” calls them back into action to expose a high-profile tech genius who's about to unveil a new gizmo that will secretly allow him to unlock any computer anywhere in the world, thus erasing the whole concept of privacy. Soon after starting their mission, Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Jack (Dave Franco), and new recruit Lula (Lizzy Caplan) are kidnapped by another tech genius, Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), and forced to steal the gizmo so that he can claim it for himself. Meanwhile, noted magician debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) tracks the group, hoping that he can get back at Rhodes for sending him to jail.

The appeal of the original Now You See Me was that it operated under a very basic, yet appealing concept: What if the act of stage illusion could be used in the real world? While it may not have been very realistic about magic, the movie had a great deal of fun with the idea of four magicians using their slight-of-hand and misdirection skills to act as modern-day Robin Hoods, bringing down a corrupt businessman and returning money to the people he stole from. Goofy? Yes, but also incredibly entertaining, provided you can suspend your disbelief.

Because that movie had a concrete ending, Now You See Me 2 struggles to find something to do right from the get-go. And it ultimately opts to focus more on the heist than on the magic, which proves to be a disastrous choice. Even if utterly unrealistic, the magic/performance sequences in the original were its main selling point. There are no such scenes here until around an hour in. Instead, you get a lot of mumbo-jumbo about the tech device, and how Walter blackmails the Horsemen into complying, and how Bradley gets out of jail. (The less said about the pointless inclusion of Merritt's twin brother, the better.) Worse, the film seems to rewrite the rules every five minutes, leading to a plot that is extremely difficult to follow, and where new occurrences continually invalidate the ones that came before. By the end, you're likely to be confused as to how or why a lot of things have happened.

On a technical level, the movie is well-made. Director Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms) gives it a sleek look and a fast pace. During the one really show-stopping magic scene, the Horsemen pass around a playing card that the gizmo is taped to, while being frisked by a bunch of security guards who are looking for it. Granted, the sequence is far more complicated than it needs to be – not to mention thoroughly illogical – but at least it starts to approach the appeal of the original, unlike almost everything else. The actors are good, too, giving this absurd material their best effort. Lizzy Caplan, replacing the absent Isla Fisher, is a welcome addition.

Those things cannot hide the fact that Now You See Me 2, like its characters, uses misdirection to distract an audience. It goes in ten different directions simultaneously, all in the hope that it will seem like you have seen something that you really haven't. The movie doesn't appear to understand what made people enjoy the first one, and with no logical reason to extend the story, the viewer is left bewildered and half-bored.

The only trick Now You See Me 2 is going to perform is a disappearing act; it'll be gone from your memory in a flash.

( out of four)

Now You See Me 2 is rated PG-13 for violence and some language. The running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.

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