The problem with the first Magic Mike is that, when the dancing stopped, the movie was kind of a drag. You have to give director Steven Soderbergh credit for what he pulled off: creating a drama about the lives of male strippers, based on the experiences of star Channing Tatum, could have been an embarrassment. Heck, it might have turned out to be the male equivalent of Showgirls. Instead, a flashy supporting turn by Matthew McConaughey and Tatum’s impressive dance moves mostly put it over, to a point. Soderbergh produced and shot the sequel, which was directed by Gregory Jacobs, a frequent Soderbergh collaborator and assistant director. Magic Mike XXL is episodic and contains little, if any, substance but this funnier sequel has great scenes throughout.
Tatum’s Mike is living his dream of running a furniture business and left behind his former occupation. The establishing scenes remind us how dull the non-stripping scenes of the first movie were. There are few things less interesting to watch than Tatum hauling furniture. Thankfully, the plot finds him enticed to join his former crew and take a road trip to a giant stripper convention. Before we go further, I should mention the scene where we see Mike in his workshop, welding (no doubt a nod to Flashdance, the esteemed cinematic grandmother of this movie).
He has the radio on for background noise, when Ginuwine’s “Pony” starts playing and Mike can’t help himself and starts dancing. Tatum is like a Gene Kelly with more pelvic thrusts. He throws himself into the moment and the joy and good humor he invests in Mike’s “reawakening” had me laughing and rooting for him and his movie. So does a scene later on, where co-star Joe Manganiello takes a bet and performs a gloriously over-the-top dance in a mini-mart, just to make a disinterested cashier smile. These and other sequences are such show stoppers, the “story” seems all but useless.
The road trip angle is tired and uninspired. Soderbergh’s French New Wave touches and art movie aesthetics are out of place–the occasionally jarring editing and sound cues, and some dim, naturally lit scenes, don’t gel with the material. The many scenes of brotherly bonding among the dancers are limp and there’s no progression or surprising developments to any of the characters.
Whereas the 2012 original started fun but got increasingly dark, this maintains a loose feel and avoids subplots involving drugs or moral dilemmas. The biggest difference between the two films is that the sequel has even more dance numbers, and they’re all raunchy, elaborate and very funny. Tatum may never return to the Step Up franchise that gave him his breakthrough but this, for better or worse, is the naughtier, hard-R equivalent.
McConaughey is missed but, playing Mike’s former collaborator, Jada-Pinkett Smith brings real snap to her scenes and has never been this commanding on screen before. The extended cameo by Andie MacDowell (whose first starring role was in Soderbergh’s celebrated directorial debut, Sex, Lies and Videotape…) goes on too long but has an enjoyable, sustained playfulness. I didn’t recognize Amber Heard, who’s good exchanging banter with Tatum but her role goes nowhere. Ditto returning cast member Gabriel Iglesias, who is mostly written out of the movie.
Magic Mike XXL wants us and its onscreen characters to have a good time and indulge our fantasies, whether its dancing or owning a furniture business. The movie also wants us to agree that, yes, Mike is wasting his talents and mighty pelvic thrusts on furniture no one wants.
The audience I saw this with was, as far as I could tell, entirely female. The cheering and shrieking were almost non-stop. At one point, a lady behind me declared, “I love this part!” My wife turned to me and asked, not unreasonably, “She already saw this? It just opened!!”
Two and a Half Stars