For their next act, the illusionist con artists from Now You See Me will make every ounce of goodwill that movie earned disappear.
Now You See Me 2 is everything its opening act avoided, a frenetic procession of willfully impossible fakeouts. We seek more cleverly executed stings from the Four Horsemen and wind up stung.
The first movie worked because it offered explanations of what amazed. Even if an explanation was baloney, a layer of possibility was established for anything the movie and its characters wanted to do. Now You See Me operated like its heroes: genial, and so open about its intent to deceive that viewers like me bought into it. Now You See Me was like watching Penn and Teller embrace and expose the illusionary arts. The sequel is an America's Got Talent washout waving a cape.
After a spectacular escape to end Part 1, the Four Horsemen (minus Isla Fisher) are hiding in plain sight, cult heroes for their Robin Hood heists. Their FBI mole/ringleader Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is throwing his chief (Sanaa Lathan) off the trail, and hoax buster Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is in jail.
The remaining Horsemen are killing time with card tricks and hypnotism riffs. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are joined by Lulu (Lizzy Caplan), "the girl Horseman" so convincing as a token female that any glimmer of intelligence contradicts the character.
The plot concerns a tech mogul (Daniel Radcliffe, feigning tough) needing a computer chip (yawn) stolen from what could be anywhere but the studio preferred China since it's a huge overseas market. Highlight an Asian star like Jay Chou (The Green Hornet) and the movie sells itself.
Taking over for Louis Leterrier, a decent action director, Jon M. Chu is so out of synch with the first movie to suggest he never watched it. Certainly the screenplay, again by Ed Solomon, ignores what worked before.
The Horsemen aren't show biz Robin Hoods this time but corporate whistleblowers, and being showered with unexpected cash is a sexier movie fantasy. In the first movie, illusions were mostly performed on stages, in controlled environments, bringing a degree of logic to everything clicking perfectly into place.
Anything can happen anywhere in Now You See Me 2, leading to an over-suspension of disbelief that the first movie kept in check. It's the difference between being fooled and being lied to. The only worse trick Chu's movie could pull on moviegoers is Harrelson playing twins, one a mincing, omnisexual cad with a curly hair transplant.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.