I could point out that I enjoyed Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, released in 2012, more for its plot and character development than for the spectacle of well-toned, barely clothed male strippers dancing lewdly. But what would be the point? Let’s not kid ourselves, here; it earned over $165 million at the box office precisely because predominantly female audiences enjoyed the spectacle. I expect a similar reaction, if not a bigger one, to Magic Mike XXL, the phallically-subtitled sequel for which Soderbergh stays on board as an executive producer but hands the directorial reins to Gregory Jacobs. To be perfectly honest, target audiences have probably already determined how they feel about the movie and won’t care one iota what people like me think. This is, of course, their prerogative as paying moviegoers.
But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t deconstruct and analyze the film, so if you happen to be someone who has already been seduced with the tagline, “You bring the girls, we’ll bring the six packs,” feel free to stop reading. I’m not holding a gun to your head. Magic Mike XXL is definitely the weaker of the two films. Although it does have scenes driven by character and dialogue, it doesn’t seem as if the filmmakers were digging quite as deep as they did three years ago. And although there is a plot, it’s less emphasized and more contrived and artificial. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie; it’s just that it isn’t trying as hard as its predecessor. My guess is that the filmmakers played into what I suspect was a demand for less substance and more stripping.
Channing Tatum, whose own past as an eighteen-year-old male stripper loosely served as a catalyst for the original film, returns as Michael “Magic Mike” Lane. His dream of starting his own Miami furniture business has come true, albeit not to the extent he had hoped. His love life is nonexistent, his girlfriend from the previous film, Brooke, having left him out of a need for “something more.” It should come as no surprise, then, how easily he’s lured back into the world of male stripping by the very friends he once performed with. These would be: Ken (Matt Bomer); Richie (Joe Manganiello), whose full stage name cannot be printed on a family website; Tito (Adam Rodriguez); Tarzan (Kevin Nash); and their DJ, Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias). Dallas, played in the previous film by Matthew McConaughey, has abandoned them all and taken with him Adam, the teenage protege played by Alex Pettyfer. Hence both characters’ absences from this film.
Since their days at the nightclub Xquisite, most of the men have dipped their toes into the waters of other lines of work. Tito, for example, has started selling exotic frozen yogurt, whilst Ken is an aspiring actor and singer, and Tarzan (whatever his real name is) has begun painting. Eager to give their fans one last good show before throwing in the towel, Richie pushes the guys into performing at an upcoming male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. As they travel up the southern states in a modified food truck, they encounter several characters. One is Mike’s new love interest, Zoe (Amber Heard), a would-be photographer with her own history of bad luck and broken dreams. Another is Mike’s former boss, Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), who runs a male strip club out of a mansion in Georgia. There’s also one especially oenophiliac scene with a rich divorcée (Andie MacDowell), who just happens to be the mother of Zoe’s best friend.
Part of the problem with this film is that it doesn’t go far enough to hide – or, at the very least, make us not care about – its more disappointing aspects. Everyone who saw the original Magic Mike knew that the budding romance between Mike and Brooke was an unoriginal plot device, but they also knew that it stemmed from a halfway plausible scenario, her being Adam’s protective sister. The budding romance between Mike and Zoe in this new film doesn’t go the extra mile; it feels as if it stems from nothing apart from what narrative convention dictates. Additionally, the character of Ken has been reduced to an oversimplified New Age stereotype, always with the talk about positive energy, karma, and chakras. And then there’s a scene in which Richie gives an impromptu performance for the dour, dumpy clerk of a convenience store; while actually quite funny as an individual scene, it’s such a manufactured comedic construct that it doesn’t mesh with the entire narrative.
This isn’t to say that Magic Mike XXL isn’t without redeeming qualities. At the risk of making some of you giggle uncontrollably, I have to admit that I admired the erotic dance sequences, not on a sexual level, but on that of choreography. Many of the actors’ moves are so intricate and aerodynamic that they border on gymnastics, and I give them credit for pulling it off. The single best asset is Jada Pinkett Smith, who is to this film what Matthew McConaughey was to the previous film – a character who has honed the skill to gauge and control audiences to a razor’s edge. But she takes it even further; referring to her clients as “queens” as opposed to “ladies,” “girls,” or “women,” Rome is not merely an emcee but a figure of empowerment. If you need a reason to see this film apart from the obvious, she would be it. However, for most people, the obvious is all that’s needed. So what else can I say?