By Daniel Barnes
Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper drama Magic Mike became a left-field hit in 2012, grossing over $100 million at the domestic box office against a budget of $7 million. Magic Mike cemented the star power of Channing Tatum, while offering Matthew McConaughey a career-defining role that launched a billion terrible impressions (“Alright, alright, alriiiiiiigght.”). But the film’s runaway success was largely due to a shrewd marketing campaign that sold girl’s-night-out sexiness, while Trojan Horsing the fact that Magic Mike was actually a smart, spare, deceptively stylish, distinctly Soderbergh-ian story of workplace dehumanization. Gotcha!
Gregory Jacobs’ cash-in sequel Magic Mike XXL, on the other hand, is the pandering, eager-to-please sex fantasy that most ticket buyers probably thought they were getting the first time around. Magic Mike is a film about stripping; Magic Mike XXL is a stripper. While Magic Mike elevated a trashy Reid Carolin script by giving it the American Gigolo spiritual ennui treatment, Magic Mike XXL revels in trash, eschewing complex themes and character arcs in favor of low humor and a genial, let’s-put-on-a-show vibe. Unfortunately, McConaughey didn’t make the return journey, and Magic Mike XXL desperately misses his mystical conviction, or any conviction at all for that matter.
As for the story, let’s just say that the thongs aren’t the only things padded around here. Ditched by his girlfriend from the first film, Mike reteams with the remaining Kings of Tampa for “one last ride” down to the big stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Oh, you know…the big stripper convention…the one down in Myrtle Beach. Along the way, Mike connects with a moody photographer (Amber Heard), reconnects with an old flame (Jada Pinkett Smith), choreographs new dance routines, and thrusts his pelvis a lot. A montage or twelve later, and you’ve got yourself a movie-like substance.
All that, and Magic Mike XXL is still pretty damn fun for an unambitious cash-in sequel, more of a rollicking road comedy and omnibus performance movie this time, closer to an R-rated Step Up entry than anything Soderbergh-ian. The film coasts a long way on Tatum’s effortless charisma in the role of “Magic Mike” Lane, but Tatum has plenty to spare, and the film springs to life whenever he dances. For all of the mercenary cynicism in Magic Mike XXL, the joy that Tatum exudes in his performances is very real, and the film is perfectly positioned as a showcase for his talents.
The women at the screening I attended certainly seemed to concur. As the audience filed out, I overheard one young woman sigh, “God, I needed that.” It’s obvious that Magic Mike XXL is not a film that the world needs, but it might just be the film that you need.