Magic Mike XXL is what many were expecting 2012’s Magic Mike to be only to end up with much more of a dramatic piece. Instead of carrying much dramatic weight, this sequel is more focused on bumping, grinding and the fun a carload of male strippers can deliver to anyone of any age as they road trip up the East Coast from Miami to Myrtle Beach.
There isn’t much of a story as much as a collection of scenes, and while you may ultimately find yourself caught up and enjoying each, there’s a repetitive nature to each scene and the air almost comes out of the movie every time a new one starts. As much fun as Magic Mike XXL may be, and as much as some audience members are going to appreciate the fact it’s more about skin and gyrating hips, the amateur nature of the plotting does cause for a bit of eye-rolling and heavy sighs.
The story begins with us learning Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) and The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) have skipped town and up and left the Kings of Tampa without a home. Meanwhile, Mike (Channing Tatum) appears to be living his dream of creating custom furniture, though the dream is more of a facade.
A phone call from Tarzan (Kevin Nash) brings Mike out of retirement as he’s looking for release and joins the rest of the guys — Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) — on a road trip to a stripper convention at Myrtle Beach. Along the way they’ll party at a drag bar, crash their truck, meet up with a girl Tito met in Jacksonville only to be face-to-face with her mother (Andie McDowell) and friends, and then it’s a quick stop over in Savannah to meet an old friend before arriving in Myrtle Beach as they attempt to put together new routines to blow the roof off the climactic convention.
There’s an Ocean’s Eleven-by-way-of-stripper vibe to it all, where the end goal isn’t a major heist, but instead the adoration of their fans. The film serves as something of an “in defense of male strippers” feature, showing they are people too and not only how hard they work at their job, but the fact they have real aspirations and dreams outside of getting naked in front of a bunch of screaming women, though make no mistake, they love that too.
Nearly each and every scene can be placed under a microscope… Why did they have to go there? Because they needed an emcee for their show. Why did they have to go there? Because they needed a vehicle to get them the rest of the way and a place to practice once they got to Myrtle Beach. Why did that have to happen? Because Mike’s real motivation for going on the road trip had to be revealed.
You can see the plot developing right before your eyes, the narrative structure is about as subtle as a stripper grinding his crotch in your face, but that isn’t to say it isn’t entertaining, because it is. The Ocean’s Eleven comparison is apt in that these are a bunch of guys you enjoy hanging out with, but like the Ocean’s sequels, this just isn’t a very good movie as much as it’s a satisfying piece of entertainment even though you can feel nearly every minute of its 115-minute running time.
Gregory Jacobs takes over as director for Steven Soderbergh, though Soderbergh remains producer, editor and cinematographer. While I could say you can tell the mantle has been passed with Jacobs delivering an inferior film to Soderbergh’s original, let’s remember Soderbergh made both Ocean’s sequels after the immensely satisfying original. Fact of the matter is, the goal here was merely to make a fun road trip movie and I’d say they succeeded, it’s only when you compare it to the original that it begins to lose some additional luster since it’s not at all trying to be that film.
There are definite issues up to and including the film’s climactic scene and I’d like to say some of it could have just been cut, but each scene does have narrative value in the end just as much as each scene delivers laughs and entertainment, but it oftentimes just takes too long to get there. About 45 minutes into the movie, as new scenes began, I would just roll my eyes, realizing we would have to wait for each of the new characters to be established before we actually get to the real reason why the boys were making each particular stop. But once you get the tedium out of the way, each scene crackles and pops in its own respect, thanks largely to a killer soundtrack not to mention some fun performances.
With the guys you already know what you’re going to get, but new cast additions such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks fit right in with the vibe the sequel is going for, which is to say a little over the top, but believable within the world we’re experiencing. Michael Strahan, Donald Glover and Stephen Boss (aka tWitch) each bring something different to the story with Strahan getting his moment to bump and grind while Glover and Boss play a little larger role in the film’s ultimate outcome, serving as something of the ying to Bomer and Tatum’s yang, not to mention adding a welcome bit of diversity.
Amber Heard‘s character, however, was a bit of a stick in the mud, bringing an otherwise upbeat movie down with her mopey behavior. If anything could have been cut it could have been her, though even her addition to the story makes narrative sense given Mike’s story trajectory.
Magic Mike XXL is essentially “girl’s night”, though that’s not to say guys that liked the first one won’t find it entertaining. You’re just not going to find the narrative weight the first one had, which isn’t a necessarily problem, just be sure and adjust your expectations.