The Horse­men still have tricks up their sleeves

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

“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.

JAY MAID­MENT/LION­S­GATE

Dave Franco, from left, Jesse Eisen­berg, Lizzy Ca­plan and Henry Lloyd-Hughes star in “Now You See Me 2.”

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