When Magic Mike debuted in 2012, viewers were taken on a tour of visual splendors and vile exploits of the seedy underbelly of a male stripper’s life. It had its fun, to be sure, but heavily drug-focused and under the helm of director Steven Soderbergh, that tale loosely based on star Channing Tatum’s early career as a stripper was less fluffy, sexy fun and more of an intense, dark exposé of the pratfalls into which one can descend when entering such a life.
There is not anything necessarily wrong about making that kind of movie. However, that is not what we the viewers were all led to believe before seeing the film. In the marketing for the motion picture, there was a distinct feeling going into it, that it was going to be a start-to-finish joyride of nothing but beautiful man candy and expert dance sequences that make viewers squeal out of sheer, titillating delight. That was not the film we were given the first time around. However, with Magic Mike XXL, that is exactly what director Gregory Jacobs benevolently bestowed upon us, and it…is…a…blast!
Michael “Magic Mike” Lane (Channing Tatum) is leading his ordinary life, three years after the events of the first film. He’s working in construction and home renovation, and his stripper days are behind him. Whilst working in his garage on some metal welding, Ginuwine’s “Pony” begins to play on his radio, and as Mr. Tatum begins to dance, it’s clear the magic has not left his bones.
Now there are good dancers, and there are good dancers…Channing Tatum is one of the best. His body is liquid, which succumbs to the beat of the music in a way that no ordinary dancer can emulate. His fluidity of motion, and sculpted perfection of physique is rarely found in a man, and why not one but now two films (and perhaps a third?) have been made to showcase this beautiful talent is absolutely no mystery at all. The man is Adonis with moves unlike any other.
With a hankering to return to the dance floor, if only for one last grand time, he gets sentimental and crestfallen when a dancer friend and former cohort Tarzan (Kevin Nash) calls him up and leaves a voice mail informing Mike that their former announcer and leader in the business Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) has passed away.
When Mike shows up to what he thought was Dallas’s wake in his mournful suit and tie, where his other male entertainer business friends are gathered—Tarzan, Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias), Ken (Matt Bomer, who, with his psuedo-eastern medicine hogwash and holier-than-thou demeanor, is surely the most annoying of the lot), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and others—he finds himself at a pool party, rather than a grief service. Dallas had apparently flown the coop and taken his act overseas never to be heard from again, and Tarzan had tricked Mike into coming so that he and the others could convince him to join the gang for one last ride to Myrtle Beach, SC for the great male stripper convention and one giant grand finale performance. And WHAT an amazing final performance it is!
While at first McConaughey’s absence from this film would have seemed to have been detrimental to its overall storytelling, (since he was such an integral part of the first tale), it winds up not impacting the movie much at all. That is not because he wasn’t important to the original casting, but rather, because this movie tells an entirely different story, and it’s one that is not necessarily in keeping with the original. And that really is no problem at all. Further of a loss (to which viewers practically could say good riddance) is one of the other main characters from Magic Mike, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), however he is not missed at all, as he was the least interesting feature of the first film.
Anyway, fairly easily convinced, Mike re-joins the gang and out they embark in their RV, upon a road trip, headed for the convention.
Along the way they have several different adventures, not all of which shall be spoiled here. Suffice it to say that one of the real highlights of the entire film is bequeathed to the delectable Mr. Joe Manganiello, who plays a character known as Big Dick Richie, whose given name delightfully is precisely literal. Previously having demonstrated in other roles more of an aptitude for drama (such as when playing the devilishly handsome, politely well mannered werewolf Alcide in HBO’s True Blood), Manganiello gets his comedic moment to brilliantly, seductively shine in a backstreet gas station minimart of all places, and it is glorious! Mr. Tatum is the star of the show, no doubt, but Manganiello is no second fiddle; his star here rises to equal footing with Tatum’s, and together, they will assuredly cause the roofs to blow off movie theatres everywhere with the screams of adoring fans.
Unlike Manganiello, fellow main character Ken comes off irritating, stupid, and incredibly full of himself. What could have made this character more interesting is if screenwriter Reid Carolin had made him gay. To be clear, that is not merely because actor Matt Bomer is gay in real life, and to say that gay actors cannot play straight characters well or convincingly would be of course completely false (and insulting to the many, many actors who have done so brilliantly throughout the ages since the dawn of time). But in this particular instance, it would have added another dimension to the film that could have served their purposes well, rather than solely catering to the screaming ladies in the crowds to which these male entertainers display their goods. And furthermore, as you’re watching Ken, the feeling of simply: “why isn’t this character gay? He seems like he should be!” strikes. Beyond that, the character is simply annoying; he’s always bringing in his thinking that he has “healing powers” at every opportunity he can, and also long scenes of him singing really throw a wrench into the film’s excitement and pacing. If they didn’t make him a gay character, they could have simply scrapped him altogether and made more room for the real stars, Tatum and Manganiello. That said, well known LGBT advocate Tatum must have made sure that treatment of the gay community in general was done well in the film, as there is a fun scene with characters “voguing” in a gay bar that respectfully, playfully pays homage to that tradition long held by gays the world over, as a fabulous dance routine to behold.
The supporting cast does well, and cameos abound, such as best showcased in Andie MacDowell, who surprisingly was hilarious in her brief, scene-stealing role as the wealthy, naughty southern belle Nancy Davidson. Dancers Augustus (Michael Strahan) and Andre (Donald Glover) are quite the ladykillers. Jada Pinket Smith also shows up as a character from Mike’s past named Rome, whom Mike wishes to convince to join their team as their new stage announcer. Elizabeth Banks makes a very brief appearance as Paris, the show-runner for the Myrtle Beach convention. A girl named Zoe (Amber Heard) shows up as Mike’s new love interest, (since he was left brokenhearted by his former flame and finacée, which was another convincing factor for him in his taking back up with his boys again for the final journey).
In all, Magic Mike XXL will capture the hearts (and let’s be real—eyes and attention) of anyone who remotely was a fan the first film, but moreover, it will certainly be more along the lines of what viewers wished to see out of a film such as this the first time around: frolicking, fabulous fun. With excellent cinematography and editing by Steven Soderbergh himself (under the pseudonyms Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard), who, despite not directing, has his shrewd eye behind the camera under these integral capacities. ‘Tis appreciated, as his keen eye and aura are all over this film. At the end of the day, it’s a movie about male adult entertainers; does anyone really care if there’s a dark, perhaps more layered underside storyline to follow? Not so much…bring on the dancing men! Mr. Tatum and Mr. Manganiello, you will always be welcome into movie theatres, dressed to the nines or nein!
4 out of 5 stars.