Magic Mike was a surprise; a genial and enjoyable romp about the ups and downs of a stripper in Tampa. Inspired by star Channing Tatum’s stint as a dancer/stripper in the 90s, and directed with gusto by Steven Soderbergh, the movie turned out to be a box office smash in the summer of 2012, no doubt buoyed by the allure of a plethora of dance sequences featuring naked guys. But it was more than just a movie about dudes shaking their asses for dollar bills. Sure, there were gyrating greasy banana hammocks aplenty but in the end, this was a character study about one man’s desire to escape the stripping world to become legitimate businessman.
But that aspect – and especially the third act in which it became a morality play on the perils of drug abuse – didn’t seem to sit well or please a lot of the movie’s target audience – many who were just clamoring for topless (and bottomless) action. Taking their target audiences’ notes to heart, Tatum and company decided to give them exactly what they were clamoring for in the first place. The result is a sequel that’s looser, twice as goofy and a whole lot funnier.
Set three years after the first film, Magic Mike XXL opens with Tatum’s character, the titular Mike, now struggling to make ends meet at his fledgling custom furniture business. But when he receives an unexpected phone call from Tarzan (Kevin Nash), he starts reminiscing of the good times with the bros. Unexpectedly finding himself gyrating and grinding on his furniture to the beats of Ginuwine’s “Pony,” Mike realizes where his heart lies and decides to reunite with the gang –pretty boy Ken (Matt Bomer), smooth-talking Tito (Adam Rodriguez), the aforementioned Tarzan and second-lieutenant Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) – for a road trip to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Yes, a stripper convention; and no, I don’t know what goes on at a stripper convention either. All you need to know is that Mike is back and he’s along for the ride. Think of it as Little Miss Sunshine meets Pitch Perfect and Ocean’s 11 but with male strippers.
Along the way to Myrtle Beach, the guys get into all kinds of shenanigans, from crashing their truck because they got high to making a pit stop at a subscription-only exotic night club run by Mike’s ex-flame Rome (a tremendous Jada Pinkett Smith) to even bonding and inspiring each other to find themselves. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds but the scenes work purely on the considerable charms of its stars. A scene in which the guys, led by Mike, give Richie a pep talk and inspire him to trust his instincts in order to make a lonely female clerk at a gas station convenience store smile had me beaming with delight. Even if you don’t like the scene, at the very least, you’ll never hear the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way” in the same light again.
But for the most part, these scenes function as fillers between the big action set pieces. And by action set-pieces, I mean extreme close-ups of vigorous pelvic thrusts. And boy, do they deliver on that front! Impeccably choreographed by Alison Faulk, directed of Gregory Jacobs and shot and edited by Soderbergh, XXL’s blissfully-entertaining dance sequences rival those in the Step Up movies. What’s more, they only get better and more sophisticated as the movie progresses. By the time the finale—an explosive blend of comedy, sexiness and cheese in which each member of the group shows off his own expertise— comes along, the entire audience I watched the movie with – including my girlfriend – was palpitating and gasping for air as they screamed their lungs out.
But what’s most impressive about XXL is that although it’s a movie primarily about male bonding, it’s completely devoid of homophobia, misogyny and sexism. Instead, it’s a film that celebrates women and their carnal desires. This is what makes it so exciting and progressive. Okay, I know what I’m saying sounds far-fetched and yes, in the end, this is still just a movie about strippers who shake their crotches for dollar bills. But XXL knows exactly what it is and makes good on that promise – which is to give its audience a damn good time. It’s a big, fun and goofy movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, and asks that neither should you.
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Screenwriter: Reid Carolin
Cast: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Adam Rodriguez
Producer: Reid Carolin, Gregory Jacobs, Channing Tatum, Nick Wechsler
Editor: Steven Soderbergh (as Mary Ann Bernard)
Cinematographer: Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)
Music: Season Kent (music supervisor), Jack Rayner (additional music)
Production Design: Howard Cummings
Running time: 115 minutes
Companies: Warner Brothers Pictures
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use)