PLOT The magicians known as the Four Horsemen return to hoodwink a technology mogul.
CAST Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan
RATED PG-13 (Some violence and startling imagery)
BOTTOM LINE Twice as preposterous and half as fun as the original.
There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s the profound gullibility it would take to enjoy “Now You See Me 2,” a sequel to 2013’s magic-themed heist movie. That film’s flashy illusions and last-minute escapes stretched credibility, but at least it added up to an entertaining action-thriller. The sequel is twice as preposterous and half as fun.
If you haven’t seen the first film, you’ll need help with the back story. We now know that FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) was only pretending to track the Robin Hood-style magicians called the Four Horsemen while actually masterminding their implausible robberies. A professional debunker, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), ended up taking the fall — just one example of the movie’s tendency toward unnecessary plot twists. We’ll see more of those here.
Screenwriter Ed Solomon shuffles around our heroes like a game of four-card monte: Back in action are arrogant illusionist J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, grating) and cocky mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, still enjoyable), while sleight-of-hand artist Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is now also a mentalist, confusingly. Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves has bowed out, replaced by Lizzy Caplan as Lula, an irritating chatterbox with a penchant for gory tricks. When we first meet her, she chops off her own head.
A serviceable Daniel Radcliffe plays the villain, Walter Mabry, a sprightly tech mogul whose latest chip is a phone-invading, all-surveilling, market-rigging wonder. Cue the Horsemen’s usual strident populism: “They’re selling privacy to boost profits!” Lula tells an outraged crowd. Ah, but this time the Horsemen have met their match. Perhaps they’ll find help in Macau, home to a legendary magic shop run by young Li (Jay Chou, “The Green Hornet”).
Aside from Harrelson in a double role (he plays Merritt’s slightly effeminate twin, Chase), “Now You See Me 2” packs few surprises or new ideas. Director Jon M. Chu, replacing Louis Leterrier, goes for mawkish sentiment more than thrills — a grave error, given these characters’ shallowness. What really nags, though, is that the movie makes so little sense even within its own reality-challenged world. Near the end, when Freeman’s Thaddeus is asked to answer the film’s central emotional and logistical question, he gives the only answer anyone can: “I don’t know.”