Movie Review - Magic Mike XXL

The sequel to the hit Steven Soderbergh film was released over the summer and did fairly well but wasn't quite the smash of its predecessor. Because I wasn't a fan of that first film, I had no interest in the second. However, once the film critics started publishing their Top Ten lists in December, I noticed something. This sequel was on the lists of eleven critics. Five of those critics write for The others include The Atlantic, Baltimore City Paper, Indiewire, Metro US, Slant and Variety. According to Metacritic, a film needed to be on at least 18 lists and ranked second or higher on those lists in order to be considered one of the best. This movie fell short, but it came close enough for me to try it and see.

Written by Reid Carolin who wrote the first film and who produced four previous films all with Channing Tatum, this movie forgoes story or plot. It becomes a pointless road trip that's interrupted every now and then with dance numbers by strippers. Given that the first film had such a scant story, for this one to have even less, it speaks either of laziness or an approach similar to Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation where Carolin thought he could simply string together a bunch of set-pieces. Yet, if you're going to go the route of Rogue Nation, then those set-pieces have to be spectacular and the set-pieces here aren't.

The set-pieces here are essentially just strippers gyrating and thrusting to music. Tatum is a good dancer and anytime he's allowed to show-off, it's entertaining, but the movie never wants to push things too far or work things too much. The choreography as it were is not that impressive, and in a movie were the action is the dancing, the choreography is really everything. Not that I was expecting Singin' in the Rain (1952) or West Side Story (1961), but I feel like a little more effort could have been put into it.

Directed by Gregory Jacobs who has been the Assistant Director for many if not all of Soderbergh's films, this movie like the first really doesn't have all that interest in the stripping. I suppose it has a little more than the first, but that's not saying much. With the exception of Tatum, none of the cast are dancers, and Jacobs doesn't want to push them to try to be.

I suppose that it keeps in line with the characters, but if the filmmakers were forgoing story and plot, why not also forgo that character detail? Make them dancers and make for a more entertaining film. For example, there is a scene where Channing Tatum who plays Mike Lane, the titular character, travels to Jacksonville, Florida, from Tampa and spends time at a bar called Mad Mary's. It's not exactly a gay bar, but it does have a gay bent. There's drag queens and men vogue-dancing. Mike and his fellow strippers from the previous film get on stage and do some vogue-dancing too. Yet, Mike is the only one any good at it. The others are extremely lame.

Again, this might fit with their characters, but it would have been far more entertaining to see those other strippers step up and actually be able to do it. The filmmakers do wise up a little and incorporate an actual, trained dancer into this trip. Stephen Boss aka tWitch plays Malik, a stripper that works in Georgia at an establishment in Savannah that caters specifically to African-American women. Boss has been in films such as Hairspray, Step Up Revolution and Step Up All In where he has given great dance performances. He's utilized to some extent, but not to an extent that anyone would care.

My complaint for a lot of the first film is that other than Mike, the other strippers are there to fill out the scene but don't add much to anything. We never got to know them. There was hardly any depth to them. This film attempts to rectify it. Joe Manganiello (True Blood) plays Richie or rather Big Dick Richie. Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart) plays Ken. Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) plays Tito and Kevin Nash (WWF Raw) plays Tarzan. In the first movie, those guys were really nothing more than their names and outward, physical attributes. This film attempts to go a little deeper and is somewhat successful.

Yet, it's all still not enough to justify this movie at all. The movie wastes time with Amber Heard who plays Zoe, a random girl that Mike meets in Jacksonville. There's a flirtation and banter but ultimately it goes nowhere, making the whole thing and her whole existence padding, unnecessary padding. Instead of dragging through the scenes of Mike and Zoe, we could have spent time digging into any one of the other guys, Richie, Ken, Tito or Tarzan, but alas no.

Despite having a scene that's slightly inside gay culture and despite having an openly gay actor in the cast, this movie again sidesteps any actual interaction between the strippers and gay men. Mike dressed in drag in the last film. He clearly loves to dance. Why couldn't the film have him gyrate and thrust for some horny gay men? The filmmakers admitted to doing what they can to court gay men in their marketing and promotion of the first film. Why not just give gay men what they wanted for this one and have Magic Mike humping some guy?

Weirdly, this movie or the previous has never convinced me that stripping is actually a good money-maker or those involved know how to properly transfer money from one party to another. For example, Mike and the other strippers go to Savannah where Jada Pinkett Smith plays Rome, a woman who runs the aforementioned, stripping establishment that caters only to African-American women. There, we see Malik and eventually Mike dancing, while women through dollar bills at them, most of which lands on the floor. It's not as if they're stuffing the cash down their underwear.

The strippers go to women randomly. They don't seem to be going to the women specifically for the cash. Mike might not be dancing for the cash necessarily but I can't say the same for Malik or even the stripper portrayed by Michael Strahan. Maybe the guys pick up the cash off screen, but the way that Rome has her place set-up, it's impossible to know who monitors that cash. For the women there, it doesn't even make sense for them to throw cash because the guys are dancing regardless and come up to women randomly. It just doesn't make sense from a business perspective.

This film makes sense from a business perspective. The first movie was made for so little but ended up bringing back nearly $200 million. It was perhaps easier for them to do this thinking they could just coast on the goodwill from the last one and not put in too much effort or much at all. As a result, this is what was brought back. One of the worst films of the year!

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 55 mins.


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