Now You See Me 2

Where's your magic now, you smug nerds??

Since everything that was wrong with “Now You See Me” is also wrong with its sequel, the blandly titled “Now You See Me 2” (not “Now You Don’t”? Not even “Now You See Me, Too”?), I’m just going to repeat what I said then:

When you see a magician do something in a live show that seems impossible, you know there’s a trick to it. Either he didn’t actually do the thing he pretended to do, or he did it by some method other than the impossible method he pretended to use. You may not be able to figure out how the trick works, but there’s no question that it IS a trick.

When you see a movie about a magician who seems to do the impossible, the explanation is much simpler: it’s a movie. They have editing, camera tricks, and special effects at their disposal. That’s why movies about magicians, if they want to be credible, have to stay within the realm of illusions that can (or could theoretically) be performed in real life. Otherwise, our default reaction is to assume that filmmaking fakery was used instead of sleight-of-hand or misdirection, and the fun of the trick is gone.

That’s if the movies are credible. “Now You See Me [2]” is incredible, in the old-fashioned sense of that word, a frustrating missed opportunity that squanders a fine premise and a great cast with a story that gets more preposterous the longer it goes.

Nice work there, Snider. Really solid review.

In the sequel, our renegade magician-heroes are in hiding while Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) sits in jail, having unwillingly taken the fall for what they did last time. While he plots revenge, the Horsemen — street magician Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt (Woody Harrelson), and jack-of-all-trades Jack (Dave Franco) — collect a new fourth member, Lula (Lizzy Caplan), to replace the one who left. (Isla Fisher got to bow out because she was pregnant, so extra congrats to her on that blessed event.) Aided by FBI mole Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), the Horsemen set out to use their skills to expose and thwart a tech company’s plan to sell everyone’s privacy. But there is a switcheroo, and the game is afoot!

Michael Caine is back as Arthur Tressler, the tycoon who turned out to be the bad guy the first time. He’s joined by Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Mabry, a tech guy who faked his own death and now hides in Macau. Which brings the Horsemen to Macau. Which happens to be home to the world’s oldest magic shop. Which happens to be staffed by people who are connected to everything else that’s going on. Et cetera.

I quote myself again:

The more we learn about the Four Horsemen’s meticulously detailed endgame, the more ludicrous it is. For it to work, hundreds of events, large and small, some completely beyond their control, must happen flawlessly and in the right sequence.

Moreover, some of the things the magicians do simply aren’t possible under the laws of time and space currently known to man. Merritt McKinney hypnotizes unwilling participants in a matter of seconds, then controls them with post-hypnotic suggestions so thoroughly that I suspect the writers learned everything they know about hypnosis from sitcoms and cartoons. Atlas is a sorcerer-level pickpocket; Jack can open any lock in the blink of an eye.

To this we can add that they are all experts at throwing cards with stunning precision, such that they can steal a card-shaped computer chip and pass it back and forth to each other — in a room where they are surrounded by security guards — without anyone seeing it, and without the chip ever being tossed amiss. (This is after the movie establishes that Merritt is terrible at throwing cards and always has been, by the way. Everybody practiced for a couple hours and became masters.)

With no earthly limit to their skills, they’re more like superheroes than magicians. The problem is that the movie keeps insisting they’re mere mortals. The movie wants us to believe that four talented conjurers could really do these things.

A bit of dumbness that’s new to the sequel is the introduction of Merritt’s twin brother, played by Harrelson in a curly wig, funny voice, and frighteningly white teeth. Not only is it a bad performance, there’s no reason for the characters to be identical twins … unless it’s a setup for part 3, which I suspect it is. In this and several other details, you can see the film (written by Ed Solomon, the only one of the three original screenwriters to return) desperately trying to establish a franchise-ready world, one where characters have previously unmentioned connections to one another, long-simmering backstories, and so forth. The director, John M. Chu (who previously took over the “Step Up” and “G.I. Joe” series after their directors didn’t return), is already signed for “Now You 3 Me,” should it come to that.

It shouldn’t come to that. As dunderheaded as the first film’s finale was, this one’s is even dumber and more anticlimactic, involving a series of illusions performed in London on (for no reason) New Year’s Eve (which means it was Christmas earlier in the movie, though there was no sign of it). Magicians pulling heists is a great idea for a movie. Now that the premise has been botched twice, let’s cut our losses and forget about it.

C- (2 hrs., 9 min.; PG-13, a little profanity.)