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Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Now You See Me 2

The Magic is Back

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: June 10, 2016 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action, Comedy, Thriller
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writers: Ed Solomon, Pete Chiarelli, 
Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, 
Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, 
Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, 
Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, 
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, 
David Warshofsky, Tsai Chin  

"Always be the smartest guy in the room."

That was "the first rule of magic" according to Jesse Eisenberg's steadfastly self-assured character in 2013's "Now You See Me." In that movie, four magicians robbed a bank in Paris – while they were in Vegas. This time, the tables are turned on them: they escape through a drain pipe in the U.S. – and end up in Macau, China.

Three of the original Four Horsemen are back for magic trick #2. They are J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). Gone is Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), who "got tired of waiting." Her replacement is the young and spirited Lula (played by the equally young and spirited Lizzy Caplan). As great as Fisher is, I think I prefer the new girl. Out of all of them, she may be "the smartest guy in the room" this time.

Naturally, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still hot on the trail of the Horsemen – or at least that's the line he's feeding his partners in the Bureau, newcomer Natalie Austin (Sanaa Lathan) and prickly veteran Cowan (David Warshofsky, who was also in the previous film).

If Eisenberg was arguably the "star" the first time around, his charisma and charm are dialed down considerably for the sequel and he takes somewhat of a supporting role and backseat to Ruffalo – although both movies are very much ensemble pieces. I am a bit disappointed that Eisenberg has almost been shuffled off to the side – he was such a dynamic and magnetic presence in the first film – but Ruffalo is a superb actor in his own right.

Neither of them are "the smartest guy in the room" anymore – or are they? As with the first, there are many twists and turns, but the characters played by Eisenberg and Ruffalo are definitely vulnerable and on the run for much of the movie. Arthur Tressler (Morgan Freeman) and Thaddeus Bradley (Michael Caine) – both of whom are returning from the original as well – may or may not have something to do with that.

It looks like The Horsemen have finally met their match when they come face-to-face with tech whiz Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe, in a nice piece of casting – he's best known, of course, for portraying the most famous magician of the modern era, Harry Potter). He wants them steal a chip that will allow him to hack into any computer in the world and decrypt anything it comes into contact with. Hermoine would not approve.

Harrelson has double the screen-time in this sequel – literally. He also plays his long lost twin brother in a situation that gave me traumatic flashbacks to Jack Palance in "City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold." But even though the twin character didn't entirely work for me, it was fun to see Woody clowning around again after taking on mostly dramatic roles over the past few years.

"Now You See Me 2" does attempt to explain some of its tricks, but they're mostly ridiculous and implausible – cinematic sleight of hand instead of actual magic. There is one scene with a playing card that defies every rule of logic and even gravity. If they can all throw a tiny card around with such precision, then they missed their true calling – they should be Major League Baseball players instead of magicians. The first movie likely had some of the same issues, but everything seems more excessive this time.

Still, such criticisms are probably missing the point. Did I have fun while I was watching? Absolutely. I was smiling for most of the movie.

There is one small scene in the final few minutes that I loved. It's no more than a tiny exchange between Michael Caine and Daniel Radcliffe, but they make those few seconds shine. Caine is such a delicious cad and Radcliffe has fantastic facial expressions.

The sequel isn't quite as good – are they ever? – and neither is its ending. Silver Screen Friend thought of a much cooler finale, which would have involved the Ruffalo character's father. But "Now You See Me 2" is still a worthy second (magical) act.

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