In Now You See Me 2, super-anti-hero magicians from the first film come out of hiding — in plain sight, naturally — for another round of razzle-dazzle that will save the world from the evil .00001 percent.
It’s anyone’s guess what these trickster rabble-rousers have been doing with themselves for the past few years, other than flicking around cards at warp speed and perhaps streaming David Copperfield videos. But a mysterious source summons the gang into action, and with a proverbial wave of the wand, the convoluted proceedings get under way.
The story doesn’t make a lick of sense, of course, but this sleight-of-hand movie is all about the smoke and mirrors, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, except when it’s delivering a few hollow lamentations about income inequality.
Like the original, the sequel is a string of elaborate tricks that range from the merely implausible to the utterly preposterous. Your enjoyment of the movie will depend on whether you can suspend your disbelief — and confusion — and let the magic of misdirection wash over you.
Sometimes, it’s easy to do just that. The best set pieces are at the beginning, when the “Four Horsemen” tricksters get a taste of their own medicine, and near the end, when the elusive magicians stage a whopper of a caper that gives the villains their ultimate comeuppance.
But the film’s script offers little in the way of magic for its characters, who might as well be trapped in one of Houdini’s water chambers. The first film offered some wisecracking between street illusionist Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg) and hypnotist Merritt (Woody Harrelson), but in the new installment, they barely talk to each other.
Instead, Harrelson spends his time warring with his evil twin brother (a bad idea), and Eisenberg is stranded without a sparring partner (a really bad idea). The character of another Horseman, Jack (Dave Franco), is so skimpily written that Jack could disappear into thin air, and no one would notice.
Faring better is Lizzy Caplan, who plays the new kid on the block, Lula, with much welcome pluckiness. Despite being some of the most-wanted fugitives in the world, the Horsemen need only about 30 seconds to accept this new member into their very exclusive world. But again, plausibility is not the order of the day here.
We are also supposed to believe that these rebels are a tight-knit family, but there is no meaningful interaction between them, despite the film’s two-hour-plus running time. Instead, it’s either exposition or tricks, even when many of the stunts (particularly in the midsection) do little to advance the story.
There’s no arguing that there’s a clever concept that anchors the Now You See Me franchise — expect more sequels — but razzle-dazzle and the art of misdirection can take you only so far. The magic has to be in the details, too.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine.
Director: Jon M. Chu.
Screenwriter: Ed Solomon.
A Lionsgate release. Running time: 126 minutes. Vulgar language, violence. Playing at area theaters.