These guys want you to share their long, hot… summer
That Magic Mike XXL is opening in the middle of a heat wave is appropriate, because, well, hot damn, do these boys look good, and man, do they have some scorchingly sexy moves. Bring your bottled water into the theater ladies (and men – this is a movie that knows – and courts – both its female and male audiences; stars Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez thrilled fans recently at the Los Angeles gay pride parade), because you’re going to need some cooling down.
First, a quick recap – the “XXL” of the title is the movie’s cheeky (no pun intended) way of indicating a sequel – no tame “2” here. The movie is a follow up to the 2012 Steven Soderbergh-directed Magic Mike, which was loosely based on lead actor Channing Tatum’s pre-acting life as a male stripper. The Soderbergh picture was actually fairly dark – the underbelly of the strippers’ world was explored, with drug use, violence, and existential angst overshadowing much of the on-stage dancing.
Director Gregory Jacobs, an assistant director on the Ocean’s 11 series, however, has replaced Soderburgh on the sequel, and the difference is both palpable and welcome. It’s summertime, after all, and while Magic Mike XXL certainly isn’t going to win any Oscars (though if there were a Best Choreography award, it could be a contender), under Jacobs’s direction, this picture, unlike Soderbergh’s, has a breezy energy, a humorous playfulness, and a lightness of spirit that make for terrific fun.
The plot, such as it is, is pretty paper thin; Magic Mike (Tatum) and his fellow strippers, the Kings of Tampa, take a road trip to a male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach for a last hurrah before pursuing other interests, and have lots of adventures (and misadventures) along the way. And don’t worry if you never saw the first film; there’s no need – the absence of central characters from that picture is explained away in a sentence or two (Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas, for example, is said to be leading a new show in China), thus allowing our heroes to move forward with new faces and storylines.
But the plot hardly matters; what matters is getting Magic Mike and his colleagues on stage doing their thing, which they do spectacularly. The picture actually is somewhat revolutionary in that it doesn’t dismiss, ignore, or fear female sexuality; in fact, it wholeheartedly embraces it. In a refreshing twist on an age old theme, here we get women objectifying men, and men both respecting and honoring a woman’s right to be sexually vibrant and active.
Jacobs cleverly turns the tables, for example, in scene in which Mike, pursuing his dream of designing furniture, spontaneously breaks into a visceral, sensual, dance number while welding, which, of course, is a winking nod to another sexy welder, Jennifer Beales of Flashdance fame. Her character, though, of course danced for a male gaze, so giving women their share of pleasurable eye candy here, then, feels earned and deserved.
But the strippers aren’t just pretty boys – the sheer athleticism and skillful acrobatics of their dance routines is impressive and exceptionally entertaining. And, for a lightweight movie, the acting is strong across the board. Tatum seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and has a nice sense of comic timing; freed up from confining, zipped up roles like he had in last year’s Foxcatcher, his natural charm shines through. The other Kings of Tampa (Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Joe Manganiello) all fare well, too, and each gets a moment in the spotlight. Nash, as the sensitive Tarzan, has a surprisingly powerful monologue about his most intimate hopes that is both absurdly comic and heartbreakingly raw. And Manganiello, as Big Dick Richie, generates some of the biggest laughs portraying a handsome but insecure hunk, who, like Cinderella’s prince, in one of the picture’s funniest running gags, is looking for the perfect fit for his extra large glass slipper, as it were.
Unlike the first movie, the sequel features more prominent female roles. Andie MacDowell particularly stands out in a small but pivotal part as a wealthy divorcee who hosts the boys. She’s in her element here, showcasing southern warmth and grace that mask underlying depths of feeling. Amber Heard also does well with a larger role as a somewhat aimless young woman who forms a connection with Mike. The one weak link is Jada Pinkett Smith, who replaces Matthew McConaughey here as the strippers’ emcee and promoter; she’s supposed to be tough, yes, but most of her scenes feel overplayed, making her come across as hard and unlikable. She’s supposed to have a past with Mike, but their chemistry feels forced, and so the attraction seems unbelievable.
But, again, this picture isn’t meant to be a master class in acting; indeed, it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, and that’s its pleasure and its strength. So round up the crew, have a few drinks, hope that the theater has the AC cranked up, and enjoy the view.
Magic Mike XXL opens today at Bay Area theaters.