“Now You See Me 2”: 2.5 out of 5 stars. In theaters.
“Now You See Me 2” doesn’t match the tricks of its flashy predecessor. Despite its flaws, the entertaining 2013 crowd-pleaser pulled an intriguing mystery out of its hat. With John M. Chu taking over directing duties from Louis Leterrier, the magic-heist sequel lacks the flair and panache of the original, but still engages due to its charismatic cast.
After a year-long absence, Robin Hood-esque illusionists The Four Horsemen – played by the returning Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and newcomer Lizzy Caplan (replacing Isla Fisher) – return to the stage to sabotage a technology magnate. But another tech genius (Daniel Radcliffe) with a vendetta intercedes and forces the Horsemen to perform a near-impossible heist in China.
Lacking the thrill of the compelling mystery that hung over the original, the sequel’s plot doesn’t make much sense. There’s too few surprises, with twists and turns looming from a mile away.
But the biggest flaw in “Now You See Me 2” is the surprising lack of magic. This largely deprives its central characters, the Four Horsemen, of the public stage theatrics that drove the plot of the first one.
A dynamic playing card sequence starts out fun but goes on too long. The third-act finale thankfully picks up the action and magic on the streets of London – including a cool-looking trick where Eisenberg attempts to control the rain – showing what the movie had the potential to be.
Despite all the smoke and mirrors, there’s just enough fun to follow along with in “Now You See Me 2” to keep it entertaining, which the film owes to the likability of its cast, including new additions Caplan and Jay Chou. Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent still manages to be the most developed character in the bunch.
Despite clever stunt casting following his magical role in the “Harry Potter” franchise, Radcliffe’s villain ultimately disappoints. He’s more of a cardboard cutout than a full-fledged character.
“Now You See Me 2” doesn’t pull off the whole trick. But if you liked the first one and its characters, it may be worth a rental.
“Me Before You”: 3.5 out of 5 stars. In theaters.
“Me Before You” is unabashedly earnest and charming. The tearjerker based on Jojo Moyes’ best-selling novel mines the lovely chemistry of its likable leads in a heartfelt romance that gives way to more serious end-of-life issues.
Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) plays small-town girl Louisa, the quirky and vivacious caregiver to Sam Claflin’s Will, a wealthy businessman left paralyzed – and bitter – after a motorcycle accident. As their relationship grows, Louisa is horrified to learn Will is nearing a six-month resolution to end his life with the help of an assisted-suicide organization. The determined Louisa plans a series of adventures to show Will that life is worth living.
The expressive Clarke is a joy to watch as she initially clashes with the cynical Will. Clarke pulls off Louisa’s offbeat wardrobe in a bubbly role very different from that of warrior queen Daenerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones.” Claflin deftly and subtly navigates a range of emotions as the wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, mourning the jet-setting life he used to lead while encouraging the sheltered Louisa to expand outside her comfort zone. The two play off each other beautifully.
Thea Sharrock’s gorgeous direction underscores the sincere romance that unfolds across the United Kingdom and exotic locales. An amazing 360-degree pan of Louisa and Will as they “dance” at a wedding celebration shows the closeness forming between them as they develop feelings for each other.
“Me Before You” takes a dark turn concerning Will’s ultimate decision on whether or not to end his life. The film addresses Will’s physical and mental struggles, but it doesn’t delve as deep into his psyche as it could have. It glosses over the politics of the assisted-suicide debate. The heaviness of the topic and how it plays out could jar some audience members.
“Me Before You” has come under fire for its portrayal of people with disabilities. But to me, the film made clear that it was presenting the choice made by one disabled person, not trying to apply that decision to a whole group of people.
“Me Before You” is as heartwarming as it heartbreaking. Be sure to bring tissues to the theater.