While it lacks the edge and dramatic impact of its predecessor, and has serious pacing and structure issues that make it more a collection of random scenes and production numbers rather than a cohesive film, Magic Mike XXL should make its target audience happy simply because it delivers what the marketing promises: lots and lots of Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello-flavored beefcake served up in new and creative ways. It’s the perfect “girl’s night out” film, with plenty of glistening muscle, well-choreographed groin-hoisting dance moves, lots of humor and even a little sweetness thrown in. Consider it a wistful love letter from Tatum and company for all the love they got for the original film, heavy on the eye candy and light on everything else.
It’s been three years since “Magic” Mike Lane (Tatum) left behind his life as the headliner for the “Kings of Tampa” to follow his dream of starting his own custom furniture company. While things haven’t exactly gone the way he had hoped they would and business could be better, he’s had little reason to look back to his past life until out of nowhere that past life comes back to town looking for him. The remaining “Kings” — Ken (Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and emcee Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) — have in mind to follow Mike’s lead and bring their illustrious male entertainer careers to a close, but not before one final adventure, an epic exit from the stage with the largest possible backdrop, a legendary stripper convention held every year in Myrtle Beach.
Immediately, Mike sees a few glaring holes in this grand plan concocted by his former mates, but he also sees a chance to have some fun with the people who were as close as brothers for years while they all shared the stage at Xquisite, and so on a whim he rejoins the Kings aboard Tito’s food-truck-turned-tour-bus, looking forward to putting on one last great show. But before they arrive they’ll have to resolve some old hurts left unspoken since Mike’s departure, and they’ll have to figure out just what they’re going to do once they get there, since the old routines are just that: old. In Mike’s mind they’re just not enough to grant them all the blazing glory departure they all desire.
The solutions to those problems, along with reunions with other old friends, connections with new friends and admirers, and a few unexpected misadventures, all present themselves on that long drive from Tampa to South Carolina, so that when the boys are finally set to take the stage, they’re ready to deliver the performances of their lives and hopefully move on to the next chapters of their lives on their own terms.
The first Magic Mike, filmed on a budget of approximately $6.5 million with Steven Soderbergh (Side Effects, Ocean’s Eleven) directing and a story loosely based on Tatum’s experiences as a stripper prior to his acting breakout, was a surprise hit in 2012, and made its mark in part due to all that skin and male sex appeal, but also thanks to a script that humanized its characters and cast a revealing light on the seedier side of the business, a business that Tatum’s Mike spent the whole film trying to get away from. In comparison, Magic Mike XXL is almost a complete reversal of that emotional plot thread: here, audiences follow Mike as he dives back in, at least temporarily, in order to experience once again the things he loved about that life: the music, the dancing and the camaraderie he shared with his fellow “Kings.” Thus, because it’s intended as a celebration of the good times, the film’s tone is much lighter; in addition, there’s a great deal more introspection here, as the difficulty of transitioning from one kind of life to another, the choices one has to make in one’s thoughts and actions in order to make those changes real, is a recurring theme. The result is a film that may surprise audiences with how talky it really is, in comparison to the expectation one might have going in thanks to all that shirtless bod driven marketing.
Also, what’s evident from the moment the Kings re-enter the scene is just how much fun everyone in this ensemble is having, especially the newcomers to the cast. Jada Pinkett Smith saunters and sizzles her way through her every scene as Rome, the “empress” of her own male entertainer establishment in Savannah who shares a complicated history with Mike, and Andie MacDowell brings some surprisingly sultry Southern sass as a wealthy Charleston divorceé who puts the boys on the spot when they find themselves guests in her home. Donald Glover (TV’s “Community“) also gets a chance to show off both the intelligence and charisma that have made him a fanboy favorite in recent years to be Spider-Man in a future film as well as the musical talents he’s displayed as Childish Gambino in the role of Andre, one of Rome’s sweeter offerings at her club. From the first film’s stars, while Tatum of course gets the biggest share of screen time and makes the most of it, arguably the most impressive in terms of talents on display is Bomer, who gets a chance to show off some serious singing skills to complement his pretty-boy appeal.
But for all the clear good intentions involved in the conception of the film and all that talent brought together to bring it to life, it’s hard to say that it all works the way Tatum and his fellow producers hoped it would. The film moves in fits and starts, with a second act that’s curiously light on the kind of song and dance audiences come in expecting and a third act that’s little more than one production number after the next. There’s just not that much to the story aside from the road trip and the conversations and experiences shared along the way, some of which are funny, some of which are sweet, but most of which lack any real dramatic heft. It’s also a film seriously in need of editing in order to tighten up the pace and inject energy, which is a very strange thing to say about a movie about male strippers and the energetic performances they put on in order to get all those dollar bills flying in their directions.
In the end, Magic Mike XXL is a film whose appeal will no doubt be absurdly skewed in connection to the expectations of audiences going in. The folks who expect to enjoy it no doubt will enjoy it, and will be laughing, hooting, and whistling at all the right moments while having a grand old time. Folks who go in expecting not to enjoy themselves — guys who promised their girlfriends they’d see this without complaint after they dragged said girlfriends to see Mad Max: Fury Road or Avengers: Age of Ultron, for example — will certainly not enjoy themselves at all, not even a little bit. There’s no middle ground here, nor should there be. After all, when was the last time you saw someone leave a male revue having anything less than an extremely positive or extremely negative experience? It just doesn’t happen all that often, and it probably won’t happen here, either.
Magic Mike XXL
Starring Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Amber Heard, Donald Glover, with Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks, and Jada Pinkett Smith. Directed by Gregory Jacobs.
Running Time: 115 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use.