Now You See Me 2: Strong on visual effects, weak in plot

Now You See Me 2 stars Woody Harrelson (left) and Dave Franco (right).
Now You See Me 2 stars Woody Harrelson (left) and Dave Franco (right).PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / THRILLER

NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (PG)

130 minutes/Opens tomorrow /3.5/5 stars

THE STORY: At the end of Now You See Me (2013), ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) has been framed and placed behind bars by a group of illusionists calling themselves the Four Horsemen. In this sequel, Bradley is out for vengeance while the gang of four (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Lizzy Caplan) get entangled with a tech magnate Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) with a hidden agenda. The fifth Horseman, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), has his cover as an FBI agent blown.

There is quite a bit of plot to get through and a huge cast of characters to get to know. Still, Now You See Me 2 is a zippy sequel that will please fans of the original magic- trick-flick-meets-crime-caper as it manages to up the ante on the illusion set pieces.

Even though you know that you are watching visual movie effects for some of the more outlandish tricks, director Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, 2013) pulls off scenes with verve and a great deal of energy.

Take, for example, an extended sequence involving a single playing card, which the Four Horsemen have to keep hidden from sight from security personnel as it gets passed from member to another like a hot potato, always on the cusp of being discovered.

Then there are the illusions performed in public, which feed off the excitement of the watching audience onscreen, while the audience offscreen tries to figure out where it is all headed.

Adding to the fun is the starstudded cast, which includes reliable veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine and well regarded actors Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg.

Lizzy Caplan (Masters Of Sex, 2013 to present) takes over from the pregnant Isla Fisher as the sole female member of the Horsemen and her new character - who once pulled a hat out of a rabbit - makes the moves on the good-looking rake played by Dave Franco.

And Daniel Radcliffe wants you to forget about the boy wizard Harry Potter by going for a villainous turn, though Walter Mabry is more petulant than sinister.

Having the action partly set in Macau means an opportunity to add some diversity to the cast.

Unfortunately, Mandopop superstar Jay Chou's role - he works in an old-fashioned magic shop in the territory - is tiny and he seems to be smirking as he delivers his lines.

The other casting decision that does not quite work is having Woody Harrelson play twins. This seems to have been done for laughs but, mostly, it strikes a false note and the over-acting by Harrelson is a distraction.

There are things that do not make sense about the plot as well, but one is happy to go along for the ride when a film has been executed with flair and flourish.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Strong on visual effects, weak in plot'. Print Edition | Subscribe