Now You See Me: The Second Act

A sequel that will hopefully disappear into thin air

After being persuaded (read: forced!) by my friend Sam to watch ‘Now You See Me’ I was pleasantly surprised – the cast were charismatic enough,  the tricks they pulled off were entertaining and, aside from a plot twist that made no sense whatsoever, it was a nice slice of fantasy entertainment. 24 hours later, after coming out of its sequel, I felt no such positivity.  ‘Now You See Me: The Second Act’ is bland, boring and blithely bloated. You come out of the cinema not feeling fooled or tricked – but scammed for giving up 129 minutes of your life for such maddening rubbish.

One year on since they outwitted the FBI and the Four Horsemen have become Three – J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) , Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – as the ‘lady horseman’ grew tired of waiting around for further instructions from the Eye. Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still working at the FBI, doing all he can to keep the Horsemen in hiding and under the radar. He sets the Horsemen a new mission to hijack the launch party of a new software, inviting Lula (Lizzy Caplan) to join them. The mission gets hijacked by Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) who kidnaps the Horseman and forces them to use their skills to go steal a data-mining device. Dylan has no idea where the Horseman are so breaks Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help find them. What are the chances that vengeance-seeking Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) may be involved somehow?

Writing the above paragraph was exceptionally difficult in the attempt to avoid being convoluted as that is what the film is – a far too convoluted series of ‘tricks’ that make no sense whatsoever. Whereas the first film was fun and flashy this one gets bogged down by attempts at pathos. Much of the plot is devoted to Ruffalo’s character mourning the death of his magician father 30 years on. This wouldn’t be so bad a plot point  were it not for the fact that Dylan is not a likeable enough character for the plot to hinge on and the fact it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s also an overwhelming sense when watching these sequences that the filmmakers are hoping for a third movie with a seemingly impossible reunion.

If magic is entertaining the masses with the impossible this film is the opposite – entertaining no one with the improbable. Very rarely does the story actually make sense – with the twists, trickery and questionable character motivations trying so hard to be clever they end up failing. That’s also true of some of the dialogue which regularly made no sense whatsoever. Ordinarily I’d then quote of one these lines as evidence but they must have been that ridiculous that my frontal lobe totally rejected storing them for future reference.

These crimes against cinema would be somewhat forgivable if the characters were likeable or the cast were enjoyable to watch. Sadly that is not a saving grace here. My disdain for characters played by Jesse Eisenberg continues, Dave Franco is unbearably vanilla and Radcliffe is supremely irritating. Harrelson would be the film’s saving grace  were it not for the fact he ends up playing a dual role as the evil twin brother of his character. He’s  so stereotypically camp that it’s offensive, his costume horrendously cheap and played so hammily you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Lizzy Caplan is a welcome addition – as she is to everything she stars in – yet is still stuck in a one-dimensional role as a manic pixie girl type chasing after Dave Franco’s character. Although she is given some rather meta dialogue – about being the ‘lady horseman’ and who will be playing the ‘floozy’ when they go undercover – these are not admirable additions by the script writer. More the least they could do by using such one dimensional characterisation.

Although there is one impressive set piece (the heist to steal the data chip) and it was more than thrilling to see my ‘ends on the big screen (hello Greenwich!) the rest of the film is lacking in warmth, wit and, well, magic. It’s short on logic and right now seems to represent this year’s very dull summer of blockbusters.

1 star

 

 

Mother’s Day

A smorgasbord of star-studded schmaltzy smug-ish sentiment.

Having not seen ‘Valentine’s Day’ (2010) nor ‘New Year’s Eve’ (2011) I knew of the infamy of director Garry Marshall‘s ensemble romantic comedies but I don’t think I was truly prepared for ‘Mother’s Day’. It took me about 1/4 of the film, roughly 30 mins, to realise that the only way I could endure (the only verb choice that really captures how I felt) the remaining 3/4 would be by turning off my settings for common-sense, logic and cynicism. As a result I found only the first section truly excruciating, the remainder only vaguely unpleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so contrived or ridiculous. ‘Mother’s Day’ is essentially a feature film that is the personification of a money-free Hallmark card. Paper thin and totally empty.

Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widow with two daughters; his wife was a marine who dies in combat. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorcee with two sons. Her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) has just married a twenty-something called Tina (Shay Mitchell). Sandy’s best friend is Jesse (Kate Hudson). Jesse is married to Russell (Aasif Mandvi), an Indian doctor; they have a young son together. They live next door to Jesse’s sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) who is married to her lesbian partner Max (Cameron Esposito); Max has a son whom Gabi adopted. Jesse made a new friend at her mother & baby group, a young mum called  Kristin (Britt Robertson). Kristin is in a long-term relationship with Zach (Jack Whitehall) who is an amaterue comedian. Kristin won’t marry Zach until she meets the mother who gave her up for adoption, a legendary business-woman and workaholic called Miranda (Julia Roberts). 

That is genuinely the most contrived plot summary I have ever written in my 14 months of writing this blog. I intentionally included facts about race/sexuality/personality which often feel needless when I write about other films. The reasoning is simple – Mother’s Day makes such a big deal about being ‘inclusive’ and having a range of representation. But it doesn’t. Not really. Yes there is a lesbian couple, but we don’t actually get to know them. They merely serve as plot points for Jesse’s storyline about telling her seemingly racist mother that she married someone of another race. The majority of the film’s ‘jokes’ come from these exchanges, where her mother calls her new-found son-in-law a ‘towelhead’ amongst many others. It’s a huge misstep as the way it is treated and mined for laughs is in itself racist. The movie tries to be self-aware about racist and homophobic attitudes yet uses them in such a casually offensive manner.

Another recurring excruciating element of the film are Jack Whitehall’s stand-up sequences. They are painfully contrived, like most of ‘Mother’s Day’ in all fairness, but considering being a stand-up is Whitehall’s job it feels like an advanced skill that the film manages to get them so so wrong.

Then there’s Julia Roberts, rumoured to have been paid $4 million for three days worth of filming. The film uses an approach to show just how ‘big’ Miranda is by having her appear everywhere within the film, frequently using adverts and infomercials to showcase her omnipresence.  It’s a touch I quite like (sound the alarm!) if only the ads themselves had been infuriating. There are glimmers of Roberts’s talent here, certain looks she gives, that remind of just how talented she is. Unfortunately that is lost by her having to play a previously stereotyped ‘business-woman’. She has no personal life, only business. Therefore she is cold and treats practically everyone as if they are worthless. So glad to see we’ve progressed beyond that cliche!

It does hurt to say this, but I did quite like the performances and storylines involving both Aniston and Sudeikis. Whilst there was still a whole lot of ridiculousness, particularly with his female harem of friends which included seemingly the only black person in the whole of Atlanta (a larger lady who is loud and proud. Sigh.), it was during these storylines that showed the film had a tiny murmur of well-meaning intent.

Otherwise ‘Mother’s Day’ is devoid of charm and rather sickly. It’s an opportunity to see actors you have liked in other movies interact with each other in contrived scenes and only communicate with pseudo psycho-babble. It’s smug and begrudgingly acted. Avoid.

1 star