Stick It In Your Eye
If in the first installment of this derogatory franchise money was magic, in this one magic is a farce. Trying hard to figure out practical explanations for his crew of illusionists’ CGI tricks, panting writer Ed Solomon tinkers with various form of comedy, from a Rube Goldberg self-decapitation to slapstick to witty banter, the rest of the writing team being in charge of “character development”, or rather the illusion thereof.
Back are our Five Horsemen, even though the only female character has changed. Details. Please have a round of applause for Mr Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, playing Mark Ruffalo), Mr Wilder (James Franco, very good at smiling charmingly), Mr McKinney (Woody “Ham” Harrelson), Miss Lula, who doesn’t have a name since she’s a woman (Lizzy Caplan, as perky and quirky as Isla Fisher was, well, neither the one nor the other), and Mr Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, easily the best of the lot as he manages to infuse some measure of vicious cipher into his performance). And of course our super duper magical team of sociopaths would not come back without their pet peeves: Mr Bradley (Morgan Freeman, in charge of the ‘An eye for an eye” voice-over because he has a soothing voice), Mr Tressler (Sir Michael Caine, cashing his check), and some new flesh: Mr Li, who doesn’t have a first name since he’s Chinese (Jay Chou, who might have the best line of dialogue translating what grandmother said in Cantonese), and Mr Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe, good at cult lines like “Tadam!” or “Splash!”).
What does it say about a movie when the name of nine actors are above the title, among them two Oscar winners and three nominees? One thing: cash machine. In the first movie, the Four Horsemen, under the shady guidance of the fifth, were actually performing some grand illusions which Mr Bradley debunked, in order to rob heartless insurance magnate Mr. Tressler. In this one, they debunk their own tricks in order to perform a heist. If you have kept your childhood fascination for prestidigitation, disappearing bunnies and appearing doves, avoid this film at all cost: it must be the most depressing backstage visit you will ever have.
So, what happens this time, are you asking? Mr Mabry has invented the movie’s McGuffin, a program which is alluded to sometimes as a chip, sometimes as a card and as a stick the rest of the time. He proudly shows a PowerPoint presentation about it in Macau, where the Horsemen are teleported by way of a swirling pizza box and a debris chute. You don’t wanna know. He’s a genius, see, and therefore is insufferable and childish, the only way Hollywood knows to write geniuses to pander to the short attention span of its audience. Also, he looks and sounds high.
Said stick is the reason why an endlessly protracted scene involving an ace of spades will test your patience, not to mention the disbelief you had to check at the door. It is also responsible for Mr McKinney to have a twin brother, resulting in Woody Harrelson trying to out-ham himself. Those scenes are a pain to watch. It also brings together father and son Mr. Tessler and Mr Mabry and frankly, the very concept of Sir Michael Caine fathering Daniel Radcliffe is terrifying, if a good example of poetic justice. Damn stick.
Unable to give any character any motivation that is not rooted in family bonds, unable to stage any violence out of the proverbial “nobody gets hurts” box, unable not to picture Asians full of wisdom and – AWESOME! – able to speak English, unable to even film Macau or London, you can’t expect NYSM2 to know anything about pattern recognition or magic, even though it tries to bullshit you it does. If by the first hour you have not guessed who will be revealed as head of The Eye in the next movie, you deserve to see it next year. If you do, one guesses you will muse which one is best, pulling a head out of an eye or a hat out of a rabbit.