'Magic Mike XXL'
Well, here’s a new one: a movie about male strippers is now officially a franchise. Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Magic Mike‘ was a truly unexpected charmer when it popped up on screens with glistening abs and a throbbing heart in 2012. It did so well that a sequel got ordered up immediately. Sadly, just like spending a little too much time in a strip club, much of the fun has faded away through repetition.
‘Magic Mike XXL’ is ultimately a victory lap for everyone involved and the movie never overcomes that fact, even if that’s central to the story.
A few years have passed since Mike (Channing Tatum) had his triumphant shirtless adventures. Just like he always dreamed, he now runs his own furniture company. But it’s not the fantasy he hoped for; it’s the real world, and only semi-successful. He can’t even afford health benefits for his single employee. Mike’s life gets a much-needed shakeup when he gets a call from his old stripper pals to tell him that Matthew McConaughey’s beloved strip club barker Dallas is dead. That turns out to be a trick, but sadly not one that means Dallas is in the movie. No, screenwriting convenience removes the last flick’s central characters played by McConaughey (a big loss), Alex Pettyfer (no real loss), and Cody Horn (a medium loss). So, Mike’s stuck with his stripper sidekicks like Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez, who didn’t bring much to the last movie. They all head on the road to a big stripper convention in Florida so that an episodic structure can provide something for all the characters to do between ripping their tops off.
The lazy, rambling, road movie leads to some highs and lows – like Jada Pinkett Smith’s bizarre male stripper palace (featuring Donald Glover as a freestyle rap stripper), a generic love interest played by Amber Heard, and most memorably a strange middle aged flirtatious wine party hosted by a sizzling Andie MacDowell. The fact that the movie is a superfluous victory lap for the characters and creators helps justify the repetition and lulls, yet not enough to save the movie.
There’s no real point to the sequel beyond reminding audiences what they liked about the first movie and getting the beefcakes to jiggle their shit around. Certainly, for some viewers that’ll be enough, but not nearly the same number of people who made the last ‘Magic Mike’ an unexpected hit. Clearly, Steven Soderbergh felt the same way. He couldn’t be bothered to direct this time, handing off that duty to his longtime A.D. Gregory Jacobs while still showing up to the party as a producer, cinematographer and editor, where he could enjoy himself without having to worry about taking blame for the film’s many failings. Admittedly, Soderbergh’s arty, underlit aesthetic remains, and the flick looks more compelling than any other summer movie on the market. Unfortunately, none of Soderbergh’s other talents made it into the project.
It’s really a shame that the gang wasn’t able to recapture more of Mike’s magic on this second go-round, because the handful of sequences that really work serve as a reminder of what a pleasant surprise the last movie was. In an era when summer movies are all adolescent fantasies, ‘Magic Mike’ sold tickets on an easily marketable premise and then delivered a surprisingly mature adult drama about messy imperfect life spiked with blasts of very knowing comedy about all the glossy bumping and grinding. ‘Magic Mike XXL’ delivers plenty of the greasy grinding, but never really digs beneath the abs of any of the characters or pauses to wink at the audience. That is, of course, with the exception of a late drunken house party where Andie MacDowell drawls her way through a devilishly charming master of ceremonies with genuine spark that not only forces the rest of the cast to up their game, but also gets into some actual human observation. It’s a cute and spunky little sequence in a movie that needs far more of them.
Obviously, everyone who plans on showing up just for the shirtless frolicking will get their kicks. It’s just a too bad that so few of Mike’s real charms returned for Round Two.