Now You See Me 2 (2016)

2017 #54
Jon M. Chu | 129 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & France* / English, Mandarin & Cantonese | 12 / PG-13

Now You See Me 2

Con thrillers are much like magic tricks: they set you up to expect one thing, then reveal something else was going on all along. The major difference is that, unlike most magic tricks, con thrillers eventually show you how it was done. So whoever came up with the idea of combining those two things into a movie where magicians use their skills to pull off elaborate heists was practically a genius in my book — what a magnificent marriage of ideas! Unfortunately, the resulting films — Now You See Me and this sequel — aren’t much good at magic, routinely substituting CGI for the tricks, and they’re not great at cons either, substituting a headlong rush and a barrage of twists for a plot that hangs together. And that’s why these films are fundamentally empty: they don’t understand that the impressiveness of both magic and a reveal-based narratives lies in doing it for real, not in pretending to do it.

Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed the first movie — in spite of its flaws, it was a daft bit of fun. The sequel (which misses a trick from the off by not being titled Now You Don’t) is too stupid to even manage that level of entertainment, instead devolving into a morass of nonsensicality. It’s not even that its plot has zero credibility as a plausible story — it’s the very way it’s put together as a film. Scenes feel disconnected from one another. Bits within them seem to have been snipped out. Sequences of varying scales seem to have been created from the notion of “what if we had a scene like this?” with no thought given to if it fits in the film, or even if it makes sense within itself. I’m left wondering if the movie had to be heavily trimmed for time; or did it never make any sense and this is the best they could stitch together?

The cast try to understand the plot...

Some spectacle-driven movies can drift by without too much sense, but a con movie — where a major component is the explanation — is not one of them. Indeed, Now You See Me 2 endeavours to make sense. It tells you there was a twist; a clever plan; that someone pulled the wool over someone else’s eyes. Sometimes it does even pretend to explain how they supposedly achieved that… but it doesn’t actually explain it. It tries to just sweep you along in a whirlwind of “surprise!” moments. That might be fine if you don’t care how it hangs together, but if you pause to consider who knew what when, and who plotted what and how… well, the film doesn’t want to give you a chance to think about any of that. That just contributes to my belief that, if you did stop and try to piece it all together, you’d discover it doesn’t actually make sense.

A few minor positives come from the new cast members. Lizzy Caplan is really good, a funny addition to the team, and Daniel Radcliffe entertains as the smiling villain, although thanks to the flurry of reveals he doesn’t get as much screen time as he deserves. Actors like Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine feel like they’re phoning it in for a paycheque. Well, sometimes a movie’s worth doing if it, say, pays for a nice house, eh Michael?

Watching it doesn’t bring any such benefits, though, so don’t bother.

2 out of 5

* I had this down as a USA/UK/China/Canada co-production. IMDb now says USA/France. Other places say just USA. One of the main production companies is from Hong Kong, according to IMDb. So who the hell knows? ^

The Interview (2014)

2015 #80
Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen | 112 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Korean | 15 / R

The InterviewSix months on from all the kerfuffle, the storm-in-a-teacup (as it turned out) controversy of The Interview’s initial release has been consigned to the (film-)history books, leaving us with a movie to be judged on its own merits… albeit a movie being judged by a lot of people who probably wouldn’t’ve bothered with it otherwise, just because of the aforementioned controversy.

The story — lest you need reminding — sees James Franco as a trashy TV interviewer and Seth Rogen as his producer who’d hoped for a more high-brow career. When they find out North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, they set out to land the interview that everyone wants. Much to their surprise, they get it… but before they travel to Pyongyang, CIA agent Lizzy Caplan turns up with a request: assassinate Kim. So the pair set off to a brutally oppressed country in order to murder someone — hilarity ensues!

As with so many comedies, your mileage will vary on whether what follows is indeed hilarity or merely inanity. For me, it contained a weight of obvious ‘gags’ and crass ‘humour’, but also enough genuinely amusing bits to keep it ticking over. Park is excellent as the affable Kim, a misunderstood social outcast who bonds with Franco over basketball, tanks, margaritas, and Katy Perry songs. The latter in particular has a great pay-off at the climax.

Some plot beats may feel over-familiar (the nasty guy is actually nice! It leads to our best-mates heroes falling out!), but then you’re not going to get much comedy out of them turning up to find out that Fireworkno, really, he’s definitely as evil as everyone thought. On the bright side, co-writer/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg also pull off a surprisingly well-constructed through-line about honeypotting/honeydicking, even if it doesn’t wholly hang together if you think about it too much (if Kim was just honeydicking Dave, would those things really make him cry?)

The real-world incidents that dogged The Interview mean it gained far more scrutiny than it ever would have normally, and the final result proves that such faff wasn’t necessary: it’s a Seth Rogen comedy, not some biting political indictment of the North Korean regime — anyone who expected it would be is clearly deluded in some way. Perhaps it’s a shame it wasn’t secretly a genius satire that deserved the extra attention, but at least it’s not bad.

3 out of 5