Starring Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Amber Heard, and Jada Pinkett Smith
My rating: ★★★ stars
All in good fun.
Three years after walking away from the male entertainment industry and opening his own custom furniture company, Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) receives an invitation from his old troupe to return to the stage for one last hurrah—a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach. With immediate financial needs and unable to resist the lure of performing, Mike goes off with his old friends on a road trip full of music, hijinks, and, of course, nearly naked men dancing.
Magic Mike XXL is a combination musical and road movie, with each stop along the road providing the opportunity for a dance sequence. Surprisingly, it reminded me of the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals of the ‘30s and ‘40s, where a bunch of plucky youngsters manage to put on a show with little more than determination and a positive outlook—and despite the limited time and resources the youngsters have, the show has the production values of a big-budget movie or Broadway show. In this case, however, the group putting on the show is not a bunch of youngsters, but aging male strippers.
Every man in the crew has unfulfilled desires that flesh out their characters beyond just their flesh. Mike wants to grow his furniture business to include more than just one employee and to open a retail space. Tito (Adam Rodriguez) wants to open an artisanal frozen yogurt truck. Ken Doll (Matt Bomer) wants to ignite his stalled acting career. Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) wants to find a woman who doesn’t run away screaming at the size of his endowment (“a blessing and a curse,” he calls it). And Tarzan (Kevin Nash) just wants to be loved.
Not returning for this sequel are Matthew McConaughey (too expensive), as the troupe’s emcee; Alex Pettyfer, as the youngest member of the group; and Cody Horn, as Mike’s love interest, Brooke. Horn is replaced by Amber Heard as a drifter named Zoe whom Mike takes a shine to. As a character, Zoe is completely unnecessary. She adds nothing to the story, and her scenes just bring the movie to a dead standstill.
Mike convinces his old boss, Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), to fill in as emcee for the big stripper show. The movie hints that Mike and Rome might have had a relationship that went beyond employee and employer at one time. Exploring that relationship would have been more interesting than anything that wet blanket Zoe brings to the film.
The story in the film, however, is little more than an excuse to string together a series of dance routines. The choreography in this film employs more interaction with the fellows’ on-screen audience members than in the first film, a disappointing change for those of us who wanted to see the characters’ moves. Also, this film uses more hip-hop music and fewer 1980s party songs than in the original. The hip-hop music has a less broad appeal and, thus, has the effect of engaging fewer viewers in fully enjoying the musical numbers. Furthermore, in this film, while there are abs aplenty on display, the entertainers tend to keep their pants on through most of the film.
This lessening of flesh on display fits with the change in the film’s tone. The first film felt grittier, as it focused on the seamy side of the male entertainment industry. This time around, the filmmakers seem to have realized that the appeal of the first film was not in the story about the sordid world of stripping but rather in the dance numbers. This film is much lighter in tone, bidding the audience to join in the fun. There’s a surprising innocence about the business that was lacking in the first film.
This change in tone fits the film’s message to its audience, which is to relax and enjoy a sexy good time, something the characters convey to one another and to those they meet on the road. And that’s all this film aspires to be—a good time. And, at that, it succeeds.