If there was ever a movie that didn’t need a sequel it was Steven Soderberg’s Magic Mike. That’s not to say that Soderbergh’s 2012 film was a failure or a flop; quite the opposite in fact. A pseudo-biographic dramedy loosely based on its lead actor Channing Tatum’s brief career as a male stripper, it caught viewers off-guard with an alchemical mix of verite style, humor, wit, emotional honesty, genuine sexiness, and a lot of heart.
Unfortunately, most of the above is missing from Magic Mike XXL. So much of the movie feels like leftover unused vignettes from its predecessor strung together to feature length and tossed out for public consumption. It’s like your favorite band got together one more time, and then spent the tour playing B-sides.
The story takes place three years after the first, and most of the original cast is back. Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (former wrestler Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) have been ditched by loopy strip-club entrepreneur Dallas and Mike’s protegé Adam (Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer respectively, both missing in action here). They’re heading for an annual male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach (seriously) and pester Mike (Tatum) to join them. Mike’s been eating his heart out ever since his girlfriend, Brooke (Cody Horn, also absent), shot down his marriage proposal. He half-heartedly begs off before packing his g-string for “one more ride”.
Thus begins a road trip that is every it as aimless as its participants. there’s very little narrative drive or character development to be had here, or even an ounce of the unabashed ambition of the previous movie, which stripped these guys down mentally as well as physically. It’s a sloppy, half-assed attempt at a road movie that lumbers from one underdone vignette to the next, mainly to set up dance numbers. It does flirt with inspiration when the aging self-proclaimed Kings of Tampa fret over their uncertain futures, and when they re-affirm the sexiness of a group of middle-aged women led by Andie MacDowell. Strippers and actors alike are career paths based on looks and thus have built-in expiration dates, and it is refreshing to see a movie give the finger to said notion.
It’s McConaughey’s absence that affects the movie the most. Dallas’ manic weirdness and borderline messianic ego elevated Magic Mike to cult status, and his absence in XXL leaves a considerable vacuum. Jada Pinkett-Smith comes close to filling it as Rome, a strip club impresario and Mike’s former flame, . but most of her screen time is spent as a glorified MC. Amber Heard is brought in as a perfunctory love interest, but her character is thinly drawn and there’s no chemistry between her and Tatum.
First-time director Gregory Jacobs’ inexperience is obvious, and Soderbergh’s presence as cinematographer and editor can smooth only some of the rough edges. We’ve seen Tatum show more depth (Foxcatcher) and better comedic timing (21 Jump Street) than he does here. His dance skills are still brilliant and, unlike the movie, he has great rhythm.