A tip of the hat, then, to Brian Tyler, the REAL star of “Now You See Me 2,” a sequel ordained by the same logic that gave us “Neighbors 2.”
As in, the first film was just enough of a hit that we could boost our bottom line in a season of the year when we have no other ideas for popcorn pictures.
So Summit Entertainment better have slipped something extra into composer Tyler’s paycheck for this one.
The cast is still top drawer, and adding Daniel Racliffe as a villain, giving Woody Harrelson an identical, sleaze-ball twin and swapping Lizzy Caplan into the sassy, sexy “girl” member of the team of magicians called The Four Horsemen (replacing Isla Fisher) was an upgrade.
The banter is snappy enough, the editing slick and quick.
But there’s so little substance, too much smoke and mirrors, the pandering to the Chinese market even more obvious than in “Independence Day,” the ending too much a cop-out, for this to come off.
But Tyler’s swinging, swaying jazzy score — augmented by the odd hip hop or pop hit used for effect — keeps it all afloat. Or from sinking straight out of sight.
Three of the Four Horsemen — Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco — are on the lam. They’re a blend of David Copperfield and Anonymous, activist/vigilantes led by rogue FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and their last caper had them faking one guy’s death and putting their “magic debunker” nemesis (Morgan Freeman) in prison.
But this mysterious magician society called The Eye summons them for a new job, and that runs them afoul of a tech tyro (Radcliffe) who has also faked his death. Naturally, he’s hiding out in Macao, aiding their need to bring China into the movie. He’ll be hard to outsmart.
“Once again, science beats magic,” he chirps as he bests them, time and again.
To foil him, they’ll need the aid of the “world’s oldest magic shop” (in China) to steal a microchip conveniently the size and shape of a playing card.
“We’re going to have to brush up on our card-istry,” J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) announces.
And they’ll need a fourth, in the person of Lula, who invites herself in.
The money scene? Getting this chip out of a supercomputer, while they’re strip-searched (not entirely) by Chinese security. Each character pointlessly flips the card to the next character to be searched — AFTER the first character has eluded detection with his or her “card-istry.” The moment you’ve gotten away with it is the perfect time…to risk detection all over again by passing the card on. It might be the most pointless moment in any movie this year.
There’s a little pleasure in Harrelson playing two parts, with the new version a curly-headed, amoral slicker. Franco is lightly amusing, with little screen presence.
And it’s always fun to watch Ruffalo and Freeman give full, fair value in every scene they share, amping up the intensity.
Caplan has the spark of a magician/man-eater. She handles the repartee better than any of them. But there’s so little of it that mainly she’s here to wear short skirts and thigh boots.
And Radcliffe? Not menacing at all.
The big gimmick is hypnotism (aids in covering logical holes in the plot), the stunts are all movie magic and “explaining away” the tricks they do. These “star” magicians” are plainly over-hyped, with only Eisenberg presented in a way that suggests he could keep a live audience interested. He has the eyes for it — legerdomain eyes.
It was never going to be all that. But that score — insistent, sexy, jazzy and loud — almost puts it over, letting us jauntily skim over the laws of logic and physics that are violated, the lack of charisma of these “charismatic” magicians, the works. Until the ending, that is, where it all feels like a cheap cheat and a waste of two hours and nine minutes of your life.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and some language
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Dave Franco, Michael Caine
Credits: Directed by Jon M. Chu, script by Ed Solomon. A Summit release.
Running time: 2:09