Movie Review ~ Now You See Me 2

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The Four Horsemen resurface and are forcibly recruited by a tech genius to pull off their most impossible heist yet.

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, David Washofsky, Tsai Chin, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  I’m just as surprised as you are that 2013’s Now You See Me did well enough to warrant a sequel seeing that I left my screening frustrated at its cheats and wholly averse to its attempts to charm. Still, someone thought it was smart move to assemble the old crew again three years down the line and aside from a new female in the mix, not much has changed about the film or my opinion of the series as a whole.  What could have been a slick summer mea culpa sequel is just another time-wasting sleight of hand.  It’s not that we can see what the actors and filmmakers have up their sleeves, it’s that we don’t care in the first place.

If you haven’t seen the first film you’re going to get some spoilers so if you don’t mind having the final twist of the original spoiled for you keep reading.

In the years since the Four Horseman took down a wealthy mogul (Michael Caine, JAWS: The Revenge) and a shady secret spiller (Morgan Freeman, Lucy) they’ve kept a fairly low profile. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, American Ultra), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, Triple 9), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Warm Bodies) haven’t gone far though and as they’re readying another elaborate trick to expose a cell-phone hacking scam they’re joined by Lula (newcomer Lizzy Caplan, Bachelorette, replacing Isla Fisher as the lone lady in the bunch) who was recruited by their leader, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Marc Ruffalo, Spotlight).  A mole in the FBI agency, Rhodes has been leading his colleagues on multiple wild goose chases, until it all catches up to him and his Horsemen when the tables are turned and they’re split up.

The Horsemen wind up in China, face to face with elvish Daniel Radcliffe (What If) who has grown a beard to show he’s not Harry Potter any longer. There’s some jibber jabber about an all-powerful computer chip Radcliffe wants and a rather lengthy sequence where the Horsemen break into a high security company to retrieve said chip. Hiding the wafer thin treasure on a playing card, director Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms) takes, no kidding, nearly five minutes showing the Horsemen passing the card between each other to avoid being caught by guards that are frisking them. It’s an exhausting passage of time that isn’t nearly as impressive as anyone involved thinks it is.

Meanwhile, Rhodes has to bust Freeman’s character out of jail because only he knows who’s behind the mystery.  A personal vendetta between the two men quickly resurfaces and becomes a focal point for several head-scratching plot twists down the road. When the Horsemen and Rhodes are reunited, the final truth of who the man behind it all is and though the mystery is ostensibly solved, there’s still a good forty-five minutes left.  It’s in these forty-five minutes that I officially checked out as it’s just a series of parlor trick moments that are less than magical.

As I’ve said before, magic tricks onscreen just don’t work for me because there’s no sense of disbelief one can reasonably hold.  When magic is done live and in person, it can be an impressive experience because you learn to not trust your eyes.  On film, when I see a trick being performed in the middle of multiple edits and angles I’m just wondering how many takes and lighting set-ups it took to get it to look right. It just doesn’t work for me.  At all.

Performances here are in line with the broad script.  God love him, Ruffalo acts the hell out of his role and for that I thank him. If only his co-stars had found a way to do the same. Eisenberg is as nebbish and stilted as ever, Franco is disarming but not given much to do, Caplan starts off with spunk but gradually gets reduced to ninth banana, Radcliffe as usual is having way more fun than we are, and Caine and Freeman are just there to cash their checks (at least Freeman is required to both stand up and walk in this film…unlike London Has Fallen).  And poor Harrelson pulls double duty as Merritt and his offensively fey twin.

Capping off with another finale that throws some random turns in at the very end, Now You See Me 2 is slickly made and moves fast but is superficially bland and all together hollow.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Night Before

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Synopsis: In New York City for their annual tradition of Christmas Eve debauchery, three lifelong best friends set out to find the Holy Grail of Christmas parties since their yearly reunion might be coming to an end.

Release Date:  November 25, 2015

Thoughts: I think I’m really getting old…because at one time I think this trailer might have generated some excitement in my movie-going bones.  As it is, it looks like another exhaustive exercise in excess from the team that brought you This Is The End, Neighbors, and (shudder) The Interview.  As annoying as Seth Rogen (The Guilt Trip) is, I know that he’s capable of more than these types of dumb-ass stoner roles and I surely know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) can do better.  Rogen and Gordon-Levitt reteam with their 50/50 director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) for this act-your-age comedy and Anthony Mackie (Pain & Gain) completes the triumvirate of stars.  This foul-mouthed red-band trailer lets us know that audiences are in for some drug-fueled ribaldry this holiday season…joy to the world.  Wake me up when these three actors find a worthier project to peddle their wares in.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Interview

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Synopsis: Dave Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapoport run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.” When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they land an interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as journalists.

Release Date:  December 25, 2014

Thoughts: Back in June of this year, The Interview was already in hot water.  A news agency in North Korea vowed retaliation against the studio distributing the comedy (Sony/Columbia), warning all involved of their plans.  Sony, undeterred from any potential backlash and encouraged by positive test screenings moved the release date from an early October bow to prime holiday real estate: Christmas Day.  In the last few weeks it seems the promise from North Korea was made good on when Sony suffered a massive hack of their internal e-mails, exposing the inner dealings of studio heads and filmmakers to public embarrassment.

Though deep down I secretly hope this is all a massive prank to promote the film, one has to wonder how worth the risk the film will end up being.  Even considering that I’m not a huge fan of James Franco (Oz, The Great and Powerful) or Seth Rogen (This Is The End) I have to say that the sheer audacity of the offensive premise of The Interview earns them some small credit in my book.  Will Sony be laughing all the way to the bank with egg on their face?

Movie Review ~ Bachelorette

The Facts:

Synopsis: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Rebel Wilson, Kyle Bornheimer

Director: Leslye Headland

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:   Oh Bridesmaids, what hath you wrought?  The 2011 mega hit made a big buzz because it was a film written by women, starring women, not just for women, and exceedingly funny.  First shrugged off as a female answer to the rowdy popularity of The Hangover, it quickly separated itself from the pack of imitators by matching that film laugh for laugh (often beating it).  Being released the same summer as the inferior The Hangover: Part II, Bridesmaids was one of the most talked about films of the year…deservedly so.

A year later comes another movie that draws obvious comparisons to Bridesmaids in tone, structure, and even casting (Wilson appears in both films but in different roles).  Bachelorette was written and directed by Headland who adapted it from her stage play and it’s not hard to see why the material would have worked well as a live performance.  Ribald humor, male strippers, and catty asides probably provided some nice laughs but having not seen the piece I can’t say how many characters/situations were added/embellished for the big screen treatment.

Providing a few nice laughs, Bachelorette unfortunately gets sunk in its multiple excesses of girls behaving badly.  None of the three leads are crafted as particularly likable characters so it’s tough to get invested in their shenanigans as they prove to be awful bridesmaids and lousy friends.  Without many/any redeemable qualities the women become exhausting cartoons and that creates a rift with the viewer.

It takes a rare performer to make an unlikable character involving and sadly Dunst is far from up to the task.  As the head honcho bridesmaid, it’s never clear why she’s friends with the bride (Wilson, operating in a far less quirky vibe than she has in Bridesmaids, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and the upcoming Pitch Perfect) or why she’s so dang angry.  Dunst just doesn’t have the timing, skill, or commitment for comedy and she’s in way over her head before the film is even half over.

Caplan and Fisher have demonstrated a knack for comedy in the past but here they are each playing such stereotypical roles that you know where they’re going to end up long before they do.  I’ve a feeling that Caplan will regret playing such a snidely clueless doormat and Fisher will wish she hadn’t played yet another total idiot but both actresses at least roll up their sleeves and dig into their parts which is more than Dunst can say. 

Like Bridesmaids, the men operate merely as pawns for the women to chew their scenery with.  It’s too bad that the talented guys aren’t called on to do more than move the show along without much functionality but Scott, Marsden, and especially Bornheimer do the best with what they have.

Headlund makes her directing debut here and perhaps a more experienced director could have taken her paper-thin script and made something of it.  As it stands, there’s not much style on display and the cinematography by Doug Emmett leaves much to be desired.  It’s nearly a point and shoot affair and one wonders if Headlund couldn’t envision her script outside of a confined stage-like setting.

It’s clear from the get-go that this movie got made simply because of the plot description in the hopes of another success with female audiences.  It’s not a total wash of a film, let’s be clear.  It’s just a glossy copycat film that is trying to capitalize on the success of a hit film without having to really acknowledge that fact.

Having been released On Demand before debuting in the theaters Bachelorette has been a surprise hit, moving to the top of the charts…becoming the first film to do so without first being released in theaters.  That may bode well for the film down the road when it’s released in early September…or it may signify that it’s destined to be a Ladies Night In experience.