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.

Mid-Day Mini ~ The Joy Luck Club

The Facts:

Synopsis: The life histories of four Asian women and their daughters reflect and guide each other.

Stars: Tamlyn Tomita, Rosalind Chao, Tsai Chin, France Nuyen, Lisa Lu, Ming-Na, Lauren Tom

Director: Wayne Wang

Rated: R

Running Length: 139 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  This adaptation of Amy Tan’s celebrated 1989 novel had the great fortune of falling into the right hands.  In addition to Oscar winning producer Oliver Stone and Oscar winning screenwriter Ronald Bass (who collaborated on the script with Tan), director Wang was at the helm overseeing this drama that looked into the lives of a quartet of women and their daughters.

Tan’s novel weaved together the past and the present to form a rich tapestry of insights into cultures and customs and the movie followed well in its footsteps.  I remember reading the novel before I saw the movie and finding it very cinematic in its conception.  It was a joy to see that Bass and Tan managed to skillfully bring to life eight vastly different women with divergent stories, binding them together in a fantastic package.

Though the story is solid, the acting can run the gamut…mostly in the modern day daughters of these women.  All the mothers have a noble story, some tragic, some humorous…but all with a definite impact.  Chin makes the best impression as a feisty tiger mother that expects the best from her daughter.  As the movie unfolds we see why she takes such pride in success and the sacrifices she made to provide the life her family enjoys. 

It’s a handsomely made film that only gets more rewarding with each viewing as you can focus on another storyline.  It’s also one of those tearjerkers that come from situations that we can relate to…especially for anyone (male or female) that gets that guilty pit in their stomach after responding in anger to a parent just trying to help or realizing too late you didn’t appreciate the unspoken gifts they gave you.  Brace yourself for a heartbreaking scene set in a salon and a Kleenex box emptying reunion as the film draws to a close.