Written by Reid Carolin / Directed by Gary Jacobs / Starring Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer
Rome: We gon see if he’s still got some magic in that mike.
What truly made the first MAGIC MIKE a magical experience was not star Channing Tatum’s beautiful body, nor the way that he moved it up and down and all around the stage as Tampa’s favourite stripper, er, male entertainer. No, what elevated that film past its flashy premise was how it perfectly married what everyone wanted to see, the electricity and excitement of the stripping itself, with what no one expected, which was a sharp commentary on class, the economy, modern sexuality and the American dream. The sequel, MAGIC MIKE XXL, does away with all that supposed pseudo intellectual bullshit and gives the people what they apparently want – more men, more dancing and more making it rain. And while you do get plenty more Mike this time around, you also unfortunately get a lot less magic as a result.
The problems with MAGIC MIKE XXL begin with the premise, of which there really isn’t one. Three years have passed since Mike (Tatum) abruptly left his job as an entrepreneur / stripper (or stripper / entrepreneur depending on who you speak with) to give his full attention to his custom furniture making dream. In that time, he’s built himself a sweet little business that is basically on the cusp of either collapsing or blowing up, which of course makes it the perfect time for him to abandon everything he holds dear in his life and join his former strippers for one last jaunt in a froyo food truck making its way to the annual stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Mike has just recently proposed and been rejected by his girlfriend and needs an escape. He could throw himself into his work but that wouldn’t make for a very fun film. So while the first film focuses on Mike coming to terms with adulthood, this one dives head first into Mike’s regression back into a life he rightfully left behind.
And thus begins the Magic Mike road movie. Along for the ride are Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias). Notably missing are The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) and ringleader, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who have apparently abandoned the gang for a lucrative stripping deal in Europe, which is as flimsy an excuse as I’ve ever heard before. MAGIC MIKE XXL has plenty of these actually and while that comes naturally with unnecessary sequels, this one feels particularly forced at times. When Mike walked out on everyone at the end of the first film, he did so because he could not pretend he was happy any longer doing what he was doing. This was a step in the right direction for the character but he is chastised for this choice in the sequel. Apparently, three years later, his friends are still really miffed that he left them high and dry (even though Mike was replaced by The Kid and the show went on all the same). Mike must then have a moment with each member of his crew to put the past behind them but do we really need to be there to witness them?
It wouldn’t be a road trip flick if the gang didn’t meet interesting characters along the way. The film does feel overstuffed with characters at times but the new ones are welcome because at least they take away from the G-string thin arcs all the returning characters are given. Mike and friends come across Amber Heard (who is an even less compelling love interest for Mike than Cody Horn was in the original), Andie MacDowell as a sex starved Southern woman and Jada Pinkett Smith as some sort of stripper / madam hybrid from Mike’s past, who introduces us to new players like Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino, who does more singing than stripping) and Stephen “Twitch” Boss (of So You Think You Can Dance fame). The latter encounters help elevate the dancing in MAGIC MIKE XXL significantly. Choreographer, Alison Faulk, steps up the game here and it is by far the best thing about this film. There are no cheeky group numbers this time out but the individual numbers, and there are plenty, are all impressive and tantalizing and will inspire a great deal of hollering.
When MAGIC MIKE XXL aims to exhilarate the crowd, it does not fail. It is only all that time in between the performances that drags the film down. Longtime assistant director to Steven Soderbergh, Gary Jacobs, replaces Soderbergh in the director seat for the sequel and attempts to adopt a similar conversational tone to that of his mentor. Soderbergh makes natural dialogue feel as awkward and clumsy as it actually is at times but he always infuses it with insight into the character and their surrounding reality. Jacobs has these guys improving about very little of import though which makes their lengthy chats just plain dull at times. And while the consensus is that no one has come to see MAGIC MIKE XXL to hear anyone talk, they do so all the same, and we can’t just fast forward to the good parts. Maybe next time around, they should dumb it down even further and just close up on Tatum’s abs for two hours straight.