Full disclosure: I had to miss the press screening of Magic Mike XXL but, thankfully, was able to catch a different advance screening in order to review the hunkalicious stripper film thanks to an invitation from a lovely San Diego publicist. The special screening audience was comprised of women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, all nearly giddy in anticipation of the male hotness they were about to see on the screen. Two free glasses of wine accompanied by yummy cupcakes and, yes, this was easily one of the most enthusiastic crowds I’ve encountered at any pre-release free screening. They cheered the security guard who told them not to use their phones during the film. They even cheered the lights going down. Warner Bros Pictures could not have found an audience more willing to accept and embrace a movie if they’d paid people to attend.
Settled into a comfy recliner surrounded by fellow Channing Tatum and Company admirers – and one lone male who took some good-natured ribbing for accompanying his girlfriend to the screening – all I wanted from this Magic Mike sequel was more dancing/stripping than the original film. Look, the plot simply doesn’t matter. It’s shallow to say so, but true. Magic Mike and its XXL follow-up are advertised as male stripper movies and while Magic Mike didn’t deliver on its promise, Tatum and Co. were out to remedy that with more, more, and more. More dancing, more nearly naked male bodies, and more of those same males pleasuring women without any strings attached.
For those who need a plot to justify the price of a ticket, this one’s a buddy roadtrip comedy about a group of guys who get together for a final trip to a stripper convention. On the road, they confess their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and come up with new acts to replace their tired old tried-and true-numbers. There’s also a little bit of romance, but mostly it’s just a bunch of guys hanging out, drinking, joking around, and then tearing off their clothes for money.
Magic Mike was directed by Steven Soderbergh who attempted to give the characters multiple layers when in actuality the setup could have done with less character development. For the sequel it’s Soderbergh’s frequent collaborator Gregory Jacobs at the helm, and Jacobs – working off a script by Magic Mike writer Reid Carolin – alters the tone to give this one a lighter, more welcoming flavor. In this sequel it’s easy to believe Mike and his fellow strippers are just one big happy, and occasionally dysfunctional, family.
Tatum dances his butt off, Matt Bomer adds depth to the story, and even Kevin Nash doesn’t seem as completely out of place as he did in the original film. He can’t dance and isn’t an actor, but the group (and thus the audience) accept him for who he is. Adam Rodriguez’ character has an expanded role which allows his personality to come through, but the standout in this sequel is Joe Manganiello. Manganiello is sexy, charming, hilarious, and sweet. He’s the guy every man wants to grab a few beers with and every woman wants to find knocking at her door. Manganiello’s never been better.
The sequel doesn’t have Matthew McConaughey which should have left a gaping hole but didn’t as Jada Pinkett Smith stepped in and stole the show. Pinkett Smith’s character, Rome, is sexy as hell, sharp, ambitious, and sexually unapologetic. Elizabeth Banks also shows up for a small role, sharing a memorable scene with Pinkett Smith that leaves you wishing for a spinoff featuring these two characters as co-owners of a strip club. Or, maybe a spinoff with Banks and Pinkett Smith providing commentary a la Banks and her Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 cohort John Michael Higgins.
But back to the men… The actors appear to be having a good time, obviously don’t mind being objectified, and were completely willing to just go for it. The audience I was with ate it up and while there were a few sluggish scenes, the final 15 minutes more than made up for all of the unnecessary dialogue or forgettable supporting characters. Magic Mike XXL is a vast improvement over Magic Mike, offering a fun summer diversion that delivers on its promise of eye candy, entertaining dance routines, and exquisite male bodies.
MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use
Running time: 115 minutes
Release date: July 1, 2015
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