Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Movie review: Now You See Me 2

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The Horsemen are back, trying to pull off their greatest sleight of hand.
Lizzy Caplan in Now you See Me 2.
Lizzy Caplan in Now you See Me 2.

In 2016, it's possible that there is nothing less relevant or sexy than a magician. Criss Angel peaked in the early 2000s, Dynamo is busy peddling cellphones for Samsung and David Copperfield is getting producer credits on blockbuster films about - you guessed it - relevant and sexy magicians. Now You See Me 2 is one of those Copperfield ventures, the sequel to 2013's ensemble crime caper Now You See Me.

If you haven't seen the first film, the story follows a star-studded troupe of young, slick magicians called The Four Horsemen who travel the world performing incredible heists on the rich and powerful, stumping the FBI in their wake.

All the while, a mysterious group of "real" magicians called The Eye follows their every move. The first instalment updated the stuffy smoke-and-mirrors of traditional magic with gleaming technology and too-tight suits. It looked like a Barkers advertisement with a few more laser beams, but still delivered an entertaining cat-and-mouse chase.

In Now You See Me 2, the story picks up in the aftermath of the first heist, where the Horsemen are wanted criminals, hiding out across the globe.

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Luring them out of anonymity is billionaire bad-guy Walter Mabry (a delightfully tongue-in-cheek Daniel Radcliffe), who threatens to kill them all if they do not steal some sort of vague genius microchip for him.

What does the chip do, exactly? Access the database of every computer in existence at once ... or something. With no choice but to obey, the group sets out to perform their most elaborate sleight of hand yet - never mind that the FBI, some very unhappy rich 1 per centers, and an innocent man they put in prison are on their tail.

Directed by Jon M. Chu of Step Up fame, the sequel feels lighter in tone than the first - a very welcome change. The plot doesn't pull the rabbit too far from the hat, but the film improves by introducing some new blood to the notorious Four Horsemen line-up.

J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) all return to their respective positions of illusionist, hypnotist and "quite good at card tricks" person. Filling the coveted fourth position is Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls, Masters of Sex) as Lula, who delivers some much-needed comic relief and does far too much heavy lifting for almost the sole female voice in the film.

Replacing Isla Fisher, Caplan brings more bite to the role than just being able to run fast in a pencil skirt and heels.

It's just a shame that, even for an escape artist, she couldn't wriggle her way out of an eye-roll-inducing romantic subplot.

Perhaps the greatest trick the Now You See Me franchise ever pulled was roping in so many acclaimed actors to prance around doing magic tricks and repeatedly saying things like "seeing is believing" without even the slightest of giggles.

Don't believe me? Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Jay Chou join the billing. Still just the one woman though - we wouldn't want things to get too shrill.

Despite the skewed cast, Now You See Me 2 is popcorn fodder at its finest. It doesn't pack the tension and intrigue of other mainstream magic heavyweights like The Prestige, eschewing the details for large-scale stunts and absurdly intricate and spectacular tricks.

The sequel accepts that magic is inherently silly. It chooses to have a bit of fun and slap the audience in the face with more than a few red herrings. Just don't expect to peer too far beyond the curtain.

Rated: M
Screening now

- Spy.co.nz

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