Skip to main content

You pulled a hat out of a rabbit. That was very colourful.

Now You See Me 2
(2016)

(SPOILERS) I don’t really know why I bothered catching up with Now You See Me 2, since I found the original an active crock. Masochism, I guess. Both occupy such a counterintuitive basis for a movie: “clever” magic tricks expressed by way of bad CGI, so revealing an inverse ratio of cleverness.


Compounding which is an utterly unsympathetic lead character, essayed by a surprisingly unassured Mark Ruffalo, whose Dylan Rhodes, in the last movie, took revenge on those he perceived to have been culpable in his father’s death (aside from his father doing bloody silly things for a living that were, likely as not, going to lead to his death irrespective of anyone else getting involved).


One can only assume the execs at Lionsgate/Summit were aware of the backlash against his cruel treatment of poor old Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), because here the character is entirely retconned as being the long-time colleague of pa Lionel Shrike. Even more, he’s so loveable, he doesn’t even nurse resentment towards, or a desire wreak revenge upon, Dylan for getting him banged up. Quite extraordinary. We’re also subjected to a flashback to the terminally traumatic formative event itself as an opener, designed to reassure us, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Dylan really does have some motivation for being so damn angry all this time. It doesn’t work.


And I haven’t even mentioned his smug Four Horseman yet, one of whom has gone AWOL (Isla Fisher) and been replaced by Lizzy Caplan (Lula), who tries her best be the most irritating cast member but has stiff competition. Dave Franco (Jack Wilder) achieves the scarcely conceivable feat of being more punchable than his older brother, but that’s about the only unbelievable display here worth mentioning.


Jesse Eisenberg (J Daniel Atlas) plays the same passive-aggressive nerd rage character he always does, while Woody Harrelson essays two roles (Merritt and Chase McKinney), neither sufficiently engaging to justify double the Woody. The obvious thing to do there, particularly since they’re feuding twins, would be to engineer a startling third act identity swap, but alas Ed Solomon, who gets the sole screenplay credit this time and, it should be remembered, was one half of the team that gave us Bill and Ted, appears to have nothing up his sleeve (apologies for the magic metaphors). Together, their pranks, repartee and distraction tactics are desperately irritating rather than witty or clever.


However, this actually does come in marginally above the first picture for withholding the risible magic shows until the end. Most of the proceedings find the team requisitioned, Terry Benedict in Ocean’s 12-style, to engage in a spot of thievery that would be a lot more interesting than it is if it were an entirely different movie with an entirely different plot. Sir Michael Caine is back and still a villain (maybe he’ll be retconned for the third outing), and you wonder just how many pay cheques the mid-octogenarian needs to pick up any more. Still, if he gets a kick out of this kind of thing, more power to him. The singular interesting aspect of his presence is that said mere presence shows up how wooden poor Daniel Radcliffe is as his son. Enthusiastic, but wooden.


In a movie revolving around the mastery of stage magic, the magicians really need to dazzle; you want their trickery to provoke genuine puzzlement and genuine awe when the reveal comes. You don’t want CGI playing cards flying around a room, no matter how competent director John M Chu’s choreography is, and you don’t want Eisenberg making it CGI rain and stop in mid-CGI-air. There’s an attempt at a Mission: Impossible-style (the TV version) fake out for the final villain-snagging ruse, but it’s so obvious in build-up, it falls entirely flat. As for Brian Tyler’s score, it’s as obnoxiously pleased with itself as the fake magicians its supporting.


One has to assume the picture’s shameless appeal to Chinese audiences, by featuring a significant portion of the picture in Macau, boosted Now You See Me 2’s box office (almost a third of its total tally came from the country), guaranteeing that, while it plunged elsewhere, there will be a Now You See Me 3. I’ll definitely remind myself not to bother with that one.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

What is this, the Titanic? Screw the women and children first shit, man.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
(SPOILERS) The brutal evidence, if any were needed, that Fox had no interest in the quality of its franchise(s), let alone admiring their purity. There’s almost (I stress almost) something beserkly admirable about Alien vs. Predator: Requiem’s flagrant disregard for anything and everything that set the primary series apart or made it distinctive. You might, at a stretch, argue this is a not bad Predator movie, in that it gives Wolf (not the Gladiator, alas; informally named after the Pulp Fiction character Harvey Keitel has since trodden into the dirt and repeatedly stamped on in a series of whorish adverts) motivation and everything, but that’s really doing it too much credit: AVPR is simply a bad movie.

I hadn’t seen this since its release, when I was marginally more charitable to its appetite for transgressive behaviour. And, to give it its backhanded due, in the establishing sections, the marriage of never-destined-to-meet genre subplots is at least…

I came here to take President Sarkoff back to his people.

Blake's 7 1.11: Bounty

It was inevitable that the series would trot out a retro-planet budget-saver at some point, and it’s a shame that it comes attached to a story as unimaginative as this one. Blake and Cally teleport down to a Federation planet with the intention of returning the exiled President Sarkoff (T.P. McKenna, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) to his people on Lindor.

Sarkoff is under guard so there’s quite a bit of extended ducking and running for Blake and Cally to do, only to find Sarkoff is extremely reluctant to return. He is content to wallow in the historical artefacts that surround him in his small castle. His daughter Tyce thinks he should grow a pair.

The B-plot, which converges eventually with the A, sees the Liberator detect an unidentified ship (we are told later that it is the civilian cruiser Star Queen, which it turns out not to be) and Gan teleports over to investigate. Vila doesn’t like it, and he’s right.

Avon: As a matter of fact, I don’t like it either. …

This is hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour.

Lock Up (1989)
Sylvester Stallone’s career was entering its first period of significant decline when Lock Up was flushed out at the tail end of his most celebrated decade. His resumé since Rocky includes a fair selection of flops, but he was never far from a return to the ring. Added to that, his star power had been considerably buoyed by a second major franchise in the form of John Rambo. For a significant chunk of the ‘80s he was unbeatable, and it’s this cachet (and foreign receipts) that has enable him to maintained his wattage through subsequent periods of severe drought. Lock Up came the same year as another Stallone prison flick, Tango & Cash, in which the actor discovered both his funny guy chops (resulting in an ill-advised but mercifully brief lurch in to full-blown comedy) and made a late stage bid to get in on the buddy cop movie formula (perhaps ego prevented him trying it before?) The difference between the two is vast. One is a funny, over-the-top, self-consciously bo…

I used to be dead, but then he brought me back to life.

Swiss Army Man (2016)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes I’ll finish watch a movie entirely bewildered by the praise it somehow merited. Spring Breakers was one notable case. Swiss Army Man is another. I’ll readily admit that music video turned feature directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan are incredibly inventive and talented – as writers not so much – and that Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as a corpse shows range I never knew he had (I mean that both ironically and seriously). Otherwise, the experience felt like being harangued by a blowhard hipster for 90 minutes, one who thinks he has something desperately, insightfully deep to say but is actually running on empty after five. It isn’t even all that appealing if you love fart jokes: any given Austin Powers is far more flatulently fulfilling.

I was tempted to label Swiss Army Man a one-joke movie, so impressed with its own single-plane weirdness that it irons itself out into something not really very weird or compelling at all. Which would be …

This planet is a game reserve, and we’re the game.

Predators (2010)
(SPOILERS) By the time this belated Predator 3 arrived, anything that treated either of Fox’s monster franchises with a modicum of decorum was to be embraced, so Predators, overly indebted to John McTiernan’s original as it is, is not exactly a breath of fresh air but nevertheless agreeably serviceable. You might have hoped for something more innovative after 23 years in the standalone wilderness, but at least you didn’t get Alien vs. Predator: Reheated.

Of course, this is essentially Robert Rodriguez’ 1994 screenplay spruced up a slightly, and as such displays the kind of slipshod approach to narrative that has served the writer-director-producer-auteur-in-his-own-bedroom’s cottage industry reasonably well over the past couple of decades .We’re mercifully fortunate he didn’t choose to make it himself (it’s only recently, with Alita: Battle Angel and the Escape from New York remake, that he appears to have been lured back to studio fare, and perhaps some degree of dilige…

You look kind of nervous. Probably your first hostage rescue, huh?

Rock the Kasbah (2015)
(SPOILERS) The chances of making a genuinely insightful, acutely satirical Hollywood movie relating to US interventions abroad, political and military, seem minimal these days, so you might as well go back 25 years to the flawed Wrong is Right. What we have seen most recently appears acknowledge this: desperate attempts to make feel good hay from loosely factual material (“inspired by”), to disastrous effect, both creatively and commercially. 2015 saw Our Brand is Crisis and Rock the Kasbah, both based on documentaries, both plotting uplifting, redemptive tales of self-realisation for their jaded, cynical protagonists when they’re confronted by the realities fostered on other nations by their home one.

Although, reality couldn’t be further from Rock the Kasbah’s Afghanistan (filmed in Morrocco), which has about as much legitimacy as The Men Who Stare at Goats’ Iraq (there at least, the heightened sense was part of the point). Taking 2009 doc Afghan Star as a starti…

Orac has access to the sum total of all the knowledge of all the known worlds.