Only slightly less emasculating than holding your girlfriend’s purse at the mall, Magic Mike XXL is yet another reminder that women are just as superficial as men when it comes to physical preferences. Sobering realizations aside, this is a thoroughly entertaining trifle that doesn’t have a malicious bone in its perfectly-sculpted body. Director Gregory Jacobs serves up a hilarious slice of All-American beefcake that puts a smile on your face and a wiggle in your hips.
Somewhere between softcore pornography and romance novels lies the magical land of Mike. Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) was the leader of Florida’s best non-stripping strip team, The Kings of Tampa (isn’t the entire purpose of stripping to get a peek at the family jewels?). Mike went legit, though, bowing out of the “male entertainer” game to open his own furniture business, presumably because all the good welding jobs had been taken by disgruntled Flashdancers.
After three years of ho-hum laboring, Mike feels that old familiar yearning to sweat on sexually-frustrated women. He re-unites with the gang for one last hurrah at the “premiere” male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. As our heroes trek northward from Florida, we get plenty of shenanigans, reunions, and heartfelt discussions to fill the gaps between titillating dance numbers. We also get enough baby oil to burn the Wicker Man.
For the uninitiated (I admit to missing this film’s 2012 predecessor, the Steven Soderbergh(!) helmed Magic Mike), these stories are loosely based on the real-life experiences of Tatum. It definitely shows. He slides into this role like a greasy glove, showing off his dancing chops and impeccable comic timing like it’s no big thing. Though his dramatic range remains somewhat suspect, Tatum is a gifted physical comedian who also understands the power of a pregnant pause.
Director Gregory Jacobs plays things pretty straight, wisely allowing beautiful bodies, a propulsive soundtrack, and inspired dance choreography to carry the action. One major drawback, however, is the look of the film. Dark and drab, the subdued color palette feels too muted for such garish material. It came as a shock, then, to learn that Soderbergh is credited as the cinematographer. Perhaps his choices are an attempt at irony or realism, but the end result is distractingly ugly at times.
Everything else about Magic Mike XXL, however, reeks of summer fun. It’s a celebration of youthful exuberance, with just a hint of middle age responsibility. Unlike so many of its vacillating characters, this film knows exactly what it wants to be when it grows up. It’s refreshing to see something so unapologetically self-aware. When Mike interrupts his joyless work routine with a spontaneous striptease—bouncing off tables and strutting like a horny peacock—Tatum plays the entire scene with a wry smile. Like the legions of squealing ladies that come to see him, Mike gives us what we want. Just sit back and break out those dollar bills.
Even more inviting is the pervading good-naturedness. There’s no condescension toward the male strippers, who avoid most of the dunderheaded stereotypes, and the female patrons are treated with a remarkable degree of respect. These ladies are active participants in the action, not just leering caricatures at some sad peepshow. This is objectification the old-fashioned way, with both sexes gathering together to revel in their unabashed sexuality. It embraces a shared experience of joy and debauchery, which feels comparatively wholesome in this insulated era of internet porn.
The structurally-challenged script by Reid Carolin hangs loosely around the relationships between Mike and his bulging brothers. Their banter is witty and naturalistic, avoiding much of the shallow bro-vado that often plagues testosterone-fueled movies like this. These guys don’t need to make homophobic jokes to qualify their emotional bonds. Not that there are any emotional stakes pushing the action forward; this film is completely bereft of drama or consequences. Magic Mike XXL still works, though, because the guys are so invested in each other. They’re having a great time, and we’re happy to go along for the ride.
Each character is given a monosyllabic goal and then the actors are entrusted to make them feel real. They succeed for the most part. Ken (Matt Bomer) wants to be a singer, Tito (Adam Rodriguez) has dreams of a becoming a yogurt magnate (and yes, that does pay off later in the film), Tarzan (Kevin Nash) wants to be an artist, and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) wants to be taken seriously as an entertainer (hint: a name change might be a good place to start). The supporting cast is rounded out by a delightfully-bawdy cougar played by Andie MacDowell, comic relief from Gabriel Iglesias, several awkward scenes from Jada Pinkett Smith as a DJ, and a hopelessly misguided sub-plot involving Amber Heard trying to regain her mojo. It’s all completely ridiculous and silly… and we’re all the better for it.
Magic Mike XXL will never be confused with a great work of art. It’s 10 minutes too long, over-stuffed with pointless sub-plots, and doesn’t have a thought in its pretty little head. It’s also infectiously entertaining, using a pitch-perfect soundtrack and energetic cast to deliver a thoroughly satisfying romp. This movie knows what it wants to do, and it does the hell out of it. Magic Mike XXL is a one-night stand that will still respect you in the morning.