Joyce Glasser reviews Magic Mike XXL
The hunky all-American actor/dancer Channing Tatum is back with two of his fellow male strippers, Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello, as are scriptwriter Reid Carolin and choreographer Alison Faulk. But the absence of Stephen Soderbergh as Director, actor Matthew McConaughey, and a disappointing turn to the quality of the script and choreography, are solely felt in Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to 2012’s enjoyable romp through the world of male strippers, Magic Mike (2012).
Despite being fleeced by Dallas (McConaughey), the duplicitous owner of the Kings of Tampa, Mike Lane (Tatum) has saved enough to start his furniture business. While he struggles to pay one employee after three years, he says his business is growing and we see Mike working hard. But Mike is single again and, as a scene reminiscent of Flashdance indicates, Mike gets the dancing bug late at night in his workshop. It seems you can take the performer out of the strip club, but you can’t take the strip club out of the performer. I would have written ‘theatre’ rather than ‘strip club’, but Mike never considered trying out for musical theatre, despite its popularity in Florida.
Mike meets up with the Kings of Tampa as they, too, are about to call it quits, but they want to go out in style. The boys, or actually, the men, who range in age from 37 to 55, plan a road trip via Jacksonville, Florida through Georgia to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to perform in its huge Stripper Convention. Mike cannot resist this opportunity to join the guys, comforted by the fact that he has a business to return to. You’d never know it, however, because after his phone is tossed out the window early on, we never see Mike borrow a phone or buy a new one to keep in touch with orders and deliveries
Despite Stephen Soderbergh’s editing talents, Gregory Jacob’s (Soderbergh’s long-time producer turned Director) road movie meanders as the men pass the time inside the van with dull banter. When Soderbergh’s camera (he is returns as the DoP) pauses on the sign, ‘Georgia, the Adventure State’, we hope in vain for some adventure. What we get is sleaze.
The men stop off at the improbably overcrowded club of Mike’s even more improbable old flame, Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith – actor Will Smith’s wife). Organised less like a strip club than a brothel, in each room, a big, black male stripper performs ‘routines’ centred on a woman selected from the customers. The other women customers (whom Rome calls Queens) cheer him on with shouts and dollar bills. Rome is still angry at Mike for walking out on her ten years earlier, but he sees it otherwise. In any event, to judge if Mike still has the magic, Rome challenges him into performing. Tatum, on whose early experiences in show biz the film is based, is still a terrific male stripper and dancer, as well as a good actor, and so naturally, the Queens approve.
The Kings then take advantage of a dubious invitation to the home of Southern Belle, Nancy (Andie MacDowell). Although the invitation was extended by her daughter, South hospitality and, it seems, female desperation, work in the strippers’ favour. ‘I wish I had you guys in our day,’ laments Nancy, while the gallant Big Dick Richie responds, ‘Well, M’am, I’d say it is still your day,’ and then offers to make it so. Although Nancy, and her 50-something friends have nothing better to do than sit around drinking mint juleps, they have no intention of throwing dollar bills at strippers. Instead, Nancy rewards Richie for his act of charity by giving him an expensive car.
When the Kings finally arrive at the Convention, they meet up with Rome who helps them to enter as they had not registered. In this tension-free, plotless film, we do not see any other acts and do not know if the Kings win any competition. Instead, we see each of the Kings perform an elaborately staged acrobatic routine designed to titillate women from the audience with increasingly explicit sexual pantomimes. Unlike Magic Mike, in Magic Mike XXL, we never see the Kings dance together and nothing is left to the imagination.
Magic Mike was an old fashioned American movie about the problematic ‘American Dream’, infused with Soderbergh’s signature touch: male sex appeal. The sequel is a meandering and rather pointless holiday from the pursuit of the American Dream. The vulgar choreography and sexist tone (in one seen, a male stripper calls himself a ‘healer’ of women) are anything but sexy.