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Now You See Me 2 is a goofy, flashy, silly and fun sequel to a goofy, flashy, silly and fun thriller constructed around the world of magic and illusions. Did I mention that the movie is a lot of fun? It's the kind of movie where every time your brain is instructing you to blast a hole through the quick-moving storyline, the director, screenwriters and colorful cast tries something funky and weird, buying Now Your See Me 2 a little more time in the blissful haze of its admittedly ridiculous world.
This might help you figure out if _Now You See Me 2 _is your cup of tea. Woody Harrelson, in this movie, gets to play his original character, Merritt McKinney -- who, by the way, is a world-renowned magician and hypnotist who uses his powers to pull off elaborate crimes -- as well as Merritt's fey, quirky and potentially murderous twin. Using today's cutting-edge technologies, Harrelson's able to play off of himself in multiple, dialogue-heavy scenes, and it's about as delightfully dizzy as you'd imagine. If that sounds too dumb, see something else, because that is the type of buzz Now You See Me 2 rides along on.
The plot for Now You See Me 2 holds together longer than expected... which means, things make sense until basically the halfway point of the movie (though anyone walking into this one without having seen the original Now You See Me, and probably more than once, will likely be lost). Here's what you basically need to know. The Four Horsemen -- world-famous magicians who use their "powers" to expose greedy criminals -- are in hiding, while their leader, J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) explores The Eye, an organization of powerful magicians who do... well, that's never actually clear. The fifth "Horseman," revealed to be FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), calls the team back into action for a gig meant to expose a crooked cell-phone tycoon. Only, the gig turns on the Horsemen, and the team finds itself in the middle of a convoluted vengeance plan with deep connections to the first film.
It has to be acknowledged that the universe created in Now You See Me and its current sequel is surreal and comically cartoonish in its Vegas aspirations. These stories hinge on street performers who've become pop-culture icons, and the two movies work magic into routine action-movie clichés. You'll either smile as Mark Ruffalo uses illusions and magic tricks to dodge common thugs in a recognizable back-alley fist fight, or you'll hate that concept and, therefore, not be into what Now You See Me 2 is selling.
But there are three additions to the Now You See Me family that, I thought, helped enhance the series in time for its second chapter. One antagonist making life difficult for the Four Horsemen this time out is Walter Mabry, a wealthy entrepreneur who exists "off the grid" and once partnered with a target of the Horsemen. As a result, money they stole sort of belonged to him, and he'd like reparations. Mabry's played with a double dose of devilish ego by Daniel Radcliffe, and the gag of casting Harry Potter as the adversary of a team of magicians is too delicious to ignore. Discussing Mabry and his motives more would shine too much light on the secrets of Now You See Me 2, but just know that Radcliffe plugs seamlessly into a charismatic ensemble that already dripped with chemistry.
The same can't quite be said for newcomer Lizzy Caplan, who replaces original Now You See Me star Isla Fisher because the actress had no interest in partaking in the next See Me trick. (Fisher, you should know, almost died doing an underwater sequence for the first Now You See Me, so her absence is understood, even if the movie makes little effort to explain it.) Caplan isn't bad as new Horseman Lula. But at the same time, she's not quirky enough to stand apart from Harrelson's twin act, from Eisenberg's broody megalomania, from Dave Franco's mega-watt personality or even from Ruffalo's haggard special-agent approach to the material. There's a lot of personality in Now You See Me 2, and Caplan seems like she's artificially turning on the anti-establishment charms, where that exudes naturally from her co-stars.
The third newcomer might be the most important to this film's success. Director Jon M. Chu (the Step Up films, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) takes over for original director Louis Leterrier, and turns Now You See Me 2 into a skiff that glides along the surface of the story without ever digging too deep into any real character development. The movie dances and pivots, powered by helium, and likely will dissipate as quickly as the invisible gas. If you remember anything about Now You See Me 2 a few weeks from now, it might be the film's benchmark gimmick -- a cleverly staged sleight-of-hand trick that involves a microchip attached to a playing card that, while exhilarating, does become a little too much look-at-what-we're-doing before the last step has landed.
Still, as summertime diversions go, Now You See Me 2 offers up as much razzle as it does dazzle, and it's bound to entertain, so long as you don't sweat the details. You know, like any other magic trick.