Sunday 20 November 2016

NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (2016)

Directed by John M. Chu, Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizy Caplan, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman. Action, Adventure, Comedy, 2016, 123mins, Cert 12.

A year after winning worldwide acclaim and admiration for pulling off a spectacular populist heist, the four illusionists known as The Four Horseman are tempted back out into the limelight to expose a dodgy tech magnate. Having the tables turned upon themselves in the process, they find themselves blackmailed into performing an abracadabra snatch and grab of a highly prized microchip with the FBI in hot pursuit.

I hadn’t seen the original NOW YOU SEE ME – but it doesn’t take long to get up to speed thanks to some nippy exposition (and a quick supplementary peek at IMDb.) Feisty brash Lizzy Caplan (Lula) has replaced Isla Fisher (Henley) as the female ‘Horseman’, whilst hypnotist Woody Harreslon (doubling this time as his goofy brother), card-shuffler Dave Franco and rain-controlling (not really, it’s just an illusion) Jesse Eisenberg continue to work what magic they can pull out of the hat with surprisingly unlikeable and paper-thin characters. The joker in the pack this time is manic Daniel Radcliffe, more annoying than Jesse Eisenberg (now that’s some trick to pull off), as Michael Caine’s villainous ‘mini-me’-like son. The script does allow Radcliffe a couple of self-referential Harry Potter digs about how he once dabbled in magic at school (snigger snigger) – presumably the raison d'ĂȘtre for his involvement. Caine looks bleary-eyed and unengaged as the billionaire who previously had his fortune nicked by The Four Horseman, whilst Morgan Freeman seems to breeze through a largely nonsensical character arc with a (no doubt) large pay check induced grin. Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent by day (leader of The Four Horseman by night), gets sealed in a replica safe his escapologist father supposedly failed to break out of underwater in an opening flashback. (If I were a betting man I’d wager dad will turn out to be very much alive in part 3).

Director Chu directs this giddily ridiculous OCEAN’S ELEVEN (with magicians) heist sequel with an assured visual aplomb. Logic is tossed to the wind like a playing card, and the actual ‘illusions’ are obviously reliant on the sleight-of-hand of CGI artists rather than any genuine illusionist skill. The London-based New Year’s Eve finale proves to be an especially unconvincing overblown set-piece, hampered further by the fact the scriptwriters seem to think the whole world runs on Greenwich Mean Time!

But it’s a breathless, slick and glossy piece of multiplex fodder, and director Chu is wise enough to not give the audience any real down-time to figure out the audacity of the cheap tricks and logic cheats constantly being pulled on them. Will I watch the seemingly inevitable NOW YOU SEE ME 3 - well, we’ll just have to wait and see. But to be fair - and to paraphrase that venerable stage magician Paul Daniels: I liked NOW YOU SEE ME 2, not a lot, but I liked it.

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Tuesday 15 November 2016

VIRAL (2016)

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, Starring: Sofia Black D’Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Michael Kelly, Travis Tope, Machine Gun Kelly. Horror. US, 2016, 82mins, Cert 15.

A global parasitic virus is turning victims into blind blood spewing zombie hosts for squiggly worms. Cut off from their parents, teen sisters Emma and Stacey’s relationship is tested to breaking point when the ‘Worm Flu’ inevitably begins to take a stranglehold on their isolated desert community.

Under the auspices  of the seemingly unstoppable Blumhouse Productions juggernaut, directors Joost and Schulman (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 & 4) deliver a well-worn (or ‘worm’) premise which, whilst adding nothing new to the global infection plague scenario, at least provides some half-likeable teen characters for once. The end result is that even when the sisters make the inevitably irrational kind of decisions that horror so often relies on (e.g. attending a house party despite a military enforced home curfew) you still half-care about whether the Worm Flu will eventually be spat all over them.

Younger Emma (Sofia Black D’Elia) is sympathetic as the more bookish slightly reserved sister to Analeigh Tipton’s older, snarkier Stacey. Nice guy next door Evan (Travis Tope) is well, nice, as Emma’s secret crush until big sis gives loves young dream a less-than subtle nudge to start the ball rolling.
There’s not a lot of actual zombie mayhem on display here as the story is largely (and wisely) confined to the immediate neighbourhood and the intimacy of the sister’s plight. The worm effects are modest, nothing we haven’t seen before, but nicely handled and there’s a pleasingly icky sequence involving an improvised amateur worm removal from a bulbous neck wound.

VIRAL is hardly a game-changer in the zombie-virus-pandemic field, but its redeemably likeable teen characters for once don’t get too under your skin (unlike those Worm Flu worms that is). 

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Originally published on the FrightFest website.