Now You See Me 2

Directed By: Jon M. Chu

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman

The magic of Harry Potter is coming back to life on the stage and screen this year.  The forward-looking sequel Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has just arrived on stage.  The backward-looking Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will arrive in theaters in November.  While the boy who lived is being revived in our imaginations, the original Potter Daniel Radcliffe is staying away from J. K. Rowling's world of magic.  In fact, he's doing anything but magical things with his career these days.  Appearing in the magic-themed sequel to heist thriller Now You See Me, Radcliffe gives us a man of science who declares the inferiority of so-called magic.  If the movie were actually good, I would applaud his effort.

In 1984, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) hosted a magic trick that would have been the ultimate triumph for magician Lionel Shrike (Richard Laing).  If he had survived being dropped into the river as the secured contents of a locked safe, he would have been heralded as one of the all-time greats.  Alas, he did not, and he left behind a son.  Today, his son is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), the secret leader of the Four Horsemen and the man publicly leading the case to arrest them.  With Thaddeus now behind bars, Dylan continues his work for the Eye in secret with the Horsemen — magician Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), the supposedly deceased Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and the newly crowned Horseman Lula (Lizzy Caplan).  Their target is Octa, a company about to release a new cell phone that will compromise consumers' privacy.  The Four Horsemen's effort to stop Octa doesn't quite go as planned.  Soon, they end up in the crosshairs of Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), and Dylan has nowhere to turn but Thaddeus.

Nowhere near as entertaining as the original, Now You See Me 2 is derivative of its predecessor in every way.  Playing on the charms of its star-studded ensemble, it lacks key aspects of other solid heist films like a meaningful story or coherence altogether.  These are especially important factors when we're talking about a movie with lots of reveals and twists.  Everything, whether logical or not, is done under the guise of magic.  It's more bewildering than awe-inspiring in fact.  For that matter, Now You See Me 2 isn't as sleek as director Jon Chu makes it out to be with his Macau-based scenery, his endless bag of magic tricks, and the overbearing notion that the Four Horsemen are Robin Hood on a global scale.  Because Now You See Me 2 rarely makes total sense, none of it will really matter to you at the end of the day.

The cast is decent at best and so-so at worst.  Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Dylan.  Reduced to a leader without followers who has daddy issues, his role isn't quite as meaty this time.  There's no mystery or intrigue about his character, and it shows despite an otherwise solid performance from Ruffalo.  The same can be said for Jesse Eisenberg and Dave Franco in their portrayals of Danny and Jack.  Both their performances seem a bit hollow.  On another note, there's just too much Woody Harrelson altogether.  Both Merritt and Chase McKinney, he's fighting on both sides of the fence.  I always enjoy Harrelson's brand of comedy, but there can be such a thing as too much.  We also have Lizzy Caplan as Lula.  She brings a certain effervescence to the film that works, but Jon Chu doesn't take advantage of her biting wit to the degree that he could.  Finally, we have a slew of villains in Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine.  All of them are cartoonish in their own ways.

Now You See Me
didn't need a sequel, and the end result sadly demonstrates it.  I'm sure some will see this as a guilty pleasure.  I see this as the Ocean's Twelve of this so-called franchise, which will probably get another sequel regardless of whether audiences want it or not.  Now You See Me 2 gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few dry martinis with this one.