The Horsemen still have tricks up their sleeves
“Now You See Me 2” is more fun than “Now You See Me,” which says something, I guess. It fits snugly in the long list of easygoing nothings, the narrative equivalent of a Fruit RollUp, designed to be forgotten in as many minutes as they took to watch.
The cast remains the chief reason it squeaks by, but it’s also a matter of the change in directors. Jon M. Chu did two of the “Step Up” movies, which I enjoyed for reasons unknown. In the context of this grandiose-deception caper, strung together by some absurdly complex and elephantine illusions staged on a large, public scale, Chu’s brand of flash and digital trickery is more to my taste than the RollUp served up in “See Me” 1 by Louis Leterrier.
Scripted by Ed Solomon, who worked on the first one, the sequel opens with the magician-thieves known as the Four Horsemen down one horsewoman (Isla Fisher, not present or accounted for). The others, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave “Really? I’m Co-Starring in a Big Movie?” Franco, are hiding out after their last big swindle, waiting for instructions from their contact at the secret organization known as The Eye.
So there’s an Eye, and there’s a priceless computer circuit known as “the stick.” A botched attempt to hijack and expose a dastardly tech visionary’s smartphone launch leaves the secret member of the troupe, FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), ratted out and scrambling for cover. For their next trick, the Horsemen are whisked to Macau with their newest member (Lizzy Caplan of MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language) Running time: 2:09 Opens: Thursday evening “Masters of Sex,” lightening the load). They’ve been recruited by another tech wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) to steal “the stick,” which can de-encrypt any and every computer on the planet. But these are principled illusionists, our heroes; in their own shady ways, they stand for truth, justice and a modicum of privacy.
Solomon plots “Now You See Me 2” by the ton, providing 1984 flashbacks for Rhodes (he lost his Houdini-like father in a magic accident) and an identical twin for Harrelson’s hypnotist character. Some of this engages; there’s refreshingly little heavy violence; a lot of it goes not nowhere, exactly, but certainly sideways.
My main problem with these movies is insufferably old-fashioned. With so much digital effects work guiding so many of the action scenes, the simple pleasures of sleight- of-hand are all but lost. (I say this as someone who loved “Harry in Your Pocket” at age 12.) The wildest sequence in “Now You See Me 2” has the Horsemen smuggling the mini circuit board, hiding on the back of a playing card, past some very serious security guards in a Macau research facility. The card changes hands over and over, in a series of outlandish flicks, handoffs, down-the-sleeve maneuvers and physics-defying acrobatics.
You don’t believe a second of what you’re seeing but … well, you don’t believe a second of what you’re seeing. Yet the design of the sequence is intricately ridiculous and not without panache. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine also are back, and even with Peter Deming’s highly variable digital photography, the movie’s Macau and London locales don’t hurt. If that sounds like faint-ish praise, well, check the star rating. Michael Phillips is a Tribune Newspapers critic.
Dave Franco, from left, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan and Henry Lloyd-Hughes star in “Now You See Me 2.”