REVIEW: Now You See Me 2

10 06 2016

Can two rabbits come out of the same metaphorical hat? Or two tricks from the same sleeve? Jon M. Chu’s “Now You See Me 2” does not really attempt such a feat. Rather than make a straightforward sequel to the 2013 magician caper, it goes in a totally new direction – essentially functioning like an “Ocean’s 11” style heist film. This entertains, sure, but it feels like a betrayal of the series’ core conceits.

The more interesting change from predecessor to sequel, however, is the transition of target for the magicians-cum-social crusaders known as the Four Horsemen. In the first film, their Robin Hood act harnessed the populist rage of the Occupy movement and used their cunning to get back at financiers who profited off the recession. Now, they face down a titan of technology with tyrannical aspirations of acquiring a chip that can surveil and sabotage any network on Earth. (On a pedantic note, it’s somewhat disappointing – yet maybe somewhat admirable – that the businessman is played by Daniel Radcliffe and no meta magic jokes are made around his appearance.)

Like “Spectre” last year, “Now You See Me 2” dives headfirst into Snowden-era debates over digital privacy. It only offers real commentary about the freedom from being seen in its conclusion, another predictably drawn-out labyrinthine affair. The film is primarily focused on the thrill; perhaps as it should be. When highly focused, as in an extended sequence showing the slight-of-hand of the disappearing card trick, it rightly claims the descriptor of “magical.”

But more often, it’s a lot of back-and-forth banter between the bickering magicians. The new presence of Lizzy Caplan’s enchantress Lula, a one-note annoying chatterbox with an aggravating infatuation for Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder, makes the interactions chafe a little more than before. Their dynamics feel like a potential deleted storyline from 2009’s “The Proposal,” the only other writing credit from “Now You See Me 2” scripter Pete Chiarelli. His sensibility coexists somewhat uneasily with writer Ed Solomon – the only credited writer returning from the original – whose previous work includes buddy action flicks like “Men in Black” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Their tag team gives the film a little bit of everything, just not a whole lot of consistency. C+ / 2stars

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REVIEW: The Green Hornet

15 01 2011

The Green Hornet” is half-heartedly “Iron Man,” half-heartedly “Kick-Ass,” but wholeheartedly a moronic waste.  It’s already begun to fade into the white noise that is the superhero movie genre, which seems to churn out a new entry with every passing minute, thanks to its reliance on the recently popularized “not-so-super” hero.  With a director fully capable of creating something of great artistic merit, writers fully capable of spinning familiar formula into fresh comedy, and stars fully capable of entertaining, the movie is a letdown simply for settling.

The typical stoner/slacker combo that is Seth Rogen remains unflinchingly true to form as Britt Reid, the heir of a media empire thanks to being the son of an incredibly successful newspaper man (Tom Wilkinson).  When his father’s death leaves him a twenty-something orphan, he’s more than a little confused as to how he can reconcile the party and the business.  Britt discovers the incredible hidden talents of Kato (Jay Chou), who can do quite a bit more than make coffee.

Together, they become a crime-fighting team with Britt known as the Green Hornet but Kato doing all the actual fighting.  They masquerade as villains but act as heroes, and their clueless escapades only get attention because Britt uses the newspaper to overhype them.  Otherwise, they would be about as legitimate as the movie’s script, which in its eagerness to take the classic heroes to a new level winds up as a cheap imitation of them.

Christoph Waltz, so frightening as the treacherous Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds,” abandons what won him the Oscar for a Snidley Whiplash, cartoonish approach to villainy.  His Chudnofsky fits in well with the ridiculous background of the movie, but it sure leaves one heck of a stain on his filmography.  And while most people would not say this is the first strike against Rogen, it’s the first time that I’ve found his routine getting old.  The same old schtick might be refreshing in a superhero movie had it not been so overdone in his raunchy comedies first or if “The Green Hornet” were released a few years earlier before real actors transformed stock characters into complex ones.

The movie is also a waste of Michel Gondry, who brings his auteurist vision and impressionistic flair to the table.  He does craft some really cool scenes that popcorn-munching multiplexers aren’t accustomed to seeing.  The movie’s visual panache is striking, yet it needed to be overwhelming to atone for all the movie’s jokes that fell flat.  Without a decent script to back up Gondry’s artistic sensibilities, “The Green Hornet” becomes about as worthwhile to watch as a Stanley Kubrick directed episode of “Jersey Shore.”  C