Now You See Me 2 attempts to occupy brave new franchise turf with a souped-up repetition of a formula that enjoyed success when the original was released in 2013.
Here's what I wrote about the original:
"If you bother to play Now You See Me back in your mind (and there's no compelling reason you should), you'll be hard-pressed to believe that the intricacies of its plot were remotely possible anywhere but in a screenwriter's imagination: Three writers were involved in creating the screenplay and story. They find entertaining moments in what otherwise amounts to a self-defeating hodgepodge of conceits, ploys and attempted fake-outs."
Now, I could say almost the same thing about a second installment that's more unashamedly outlandish than its predecessor and that replaces Isla Fisher with Lizzy Caplan, the female in these male-dominated proceedings. But, for me, this is a case in which the movie's 126-minute running time contains enough amusement to keep boredom at bay.
The movie's Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Caplan are still magicians with a taste for larceny and for staging the improbably big finale.
This time, The Horsemen are coerced into working for the evil Walter Marbry (Daniel Radcliffe), an entrepreneur who has staged the ultimate vanishing act: He has faked his own death.
Marbry wants the Horsemen to steal something called "the stick," some sort of gizmo capable of deprogramming any computer.
Director Jon M. Chu does a nice job with the scenes involving magic, presenting them with the swiftly efficient wave of his cinematic wand.
Of course, the tricks we see are possible only in a movie where reality readily can be altered and audiences are accustomed to suspending disbelief as easily as they reach for the next bite of popcorn.
Some of the movie takes place in Macau, where the magicians visit Iong's Magic Shop, supposedly the world's best magic store. A grandson (Jay Chou) and his grandma (Tsai Chin) run this cluttered emporium of tricks and illusions.
This year's version also throws in a half-brother for Harrelson's character, an evil sibling (also played by Harrelson) with a predatory smile and a curly wig that makes him look like a demented version of Matthew McConaughey, something McConaughey previously has accomplished all on his own. Still, it's a weird effect.
We also learn that Mark Ruffalo's Dylan -- the FBI agent who's actually in cahoots with the Horsemen -- has reason to harbor a long-standing grudge.
Also returning -- albeit on the movie's fringe -- are Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley, a man who has made his living exposing the ruses behind magic tricks, and Michael Caine, as ... well ... see the movie.
There's no need to over-praise (or over-trash) a movie such as Now You See Me 2. The actors wear their roles well, and the result is a caper movie that's not afraid to ask us to go with its magical flow -- no matter how phony it seems.
It may help to think of Now You See Me 2 as a teeming helping of what might be called "magic unrealism."