With Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Juan Piedrahita. Written Reid Carolin. Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. 115 minutes.
There’s something familiar about MAGIC MIKE XXL, the sequel to “Magic Mike” It’s not just the return of most of the male strippers – excepting Oscar-winner Matthew McConnaughey’s Dallas whom we’re told has a new troupe of strippers in Macao. No, it’s the plot.
Mike (Channing Tatum), has left the life to open up the furniture business he was saving up for, but things are so tough he can’t even afford health insurance for his sole employee. When he gets a call from Richie (Joe Manganiello) he discovers that his old Tampa gang are going to a “convention” of male strippers in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The promise of big money lures Mike back for one last show.
As the nearly two-hour movie progresses, they hit various bumps. An accident takes out their van and their driver/MC Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) for the duration. Mike meets Zoe (Amber Heard), who sends him decidedly mixed signals. He reconnects with Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), who now presides over her own male strip club. They stop by an old friend only to find her mother (Andie McDowell) and her friends who take a decidely unladylike interest in the strippers. They argue over whether to do their tried and true acts or dare to do something new with only days to rehearse.
Finally, it’s the big night. The woman in charge (Elizabeth Banks) gives them a key slot. And then it’s show time. Finally we get to see the big acts each of them has created, with Mike arranging for Zoe to be his on-stage partner/prop for his act. It’s not a spoiler to say that audiences which have been waiting for this series of payoffs won’t be disappointed.
The details, of course, are entirely different, but this is the outline for virtually every backstage musical ever made, starting with “42nd Street” (1933). There’s a lot of plot churning and hijinks as we wait for the big numbers at the end. The characters are likable enough that you don’t mind following them, but there’s no real depth here, nor is any intended. The whole movie is just a vehicle to get you to the last half hour or so and the various “dance” routines.
Thus the fact that there are some credible actors in the cast–Tatum, Manganiello, Smith, McDowell, and Banks among them–is almost beside the point. This is about objectifying and sexualizing male bodies, and since this is usually the way women are portrayed on screen, one can hardly complain. (Or, if one wants to complain, this is hardly the place to start.) This is a movie that is cashing in on the success of the first one.
“Magic Mike” was not a great film but it was directed by Steven Soderbergh and had moments where you really did care about the lives of the characters and the choices they were making. This film, although penned by Reid Carolin who wrote the original, doesn’t quite reach for that. The biggest crisis here is Richie deciding whether he wants to play a fireman, as he has been doing, or find himself a new role as a “male entertainer.”
“Magic Mike XXL” is eye candy for those who want to see barely dressed men simulating sex. If that’s not you, you needn’t bother.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.