Magic Mike XXL

Channing Tatum returns to the strip scene in this unexpected sequel

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Magic Mike XXL

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Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Starring Channing Tatum, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Andie MacDowell, Gabriel Iglesias, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Donald Glover, Christian Boeving, Billy Reilich, Stephen Boss. Written by Reid Carolin.

At the big strip-off at the end of this sequel to 2012’s Magic Mike, I imagine some audience members are finally getting what they paid for: around 20 minutes of nonstop striptease as scantily-clad men strut their stuff and gyrate around the stage and with the screaming women in the audience. 

Up until then, however, they might find the rest of the film lacking. The majority of Magic Mike XXL is a laid-back, low-burn, mostly plotless road movie exercise as the group of strippers dubbed the Kings of Tampa makes their way up the East Coast to Myrtle Beach to take part in big-time strip competition.

On that level, I really dug this unexpected sequel, and enjoyed spending time in the companyof some likable supporting characters that didn’t get much of a chance to show their stuff in the original film.

Back, of course, is that film’s titular character, played again by Channing Tatum. His Mike is out of the stripping game and has his own small repairs company in Tampa, though he’s struggling to pay his lone employee.

Gone from this sequel are Matthew McConaughey’s vibrant club owner, Dallas, and Alex Pettyfer’s young stud, The Kid, whose story arc made up the bulk of the first film. Purportedly, McConaughey priced himself out of consideration after winning an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, while Pettyfer and Tatum didn’t get along on the set of the original.

But Magic Mike XXL doesn’t dwell on specifics. Dallas and The Kid “left for Europe,” according to one of the characters here, leaving the once-proud Kings of Tampa without a venue to call their home.

But why not go out with a bang? Aging strippers Big Dick Ritchie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Ken (Matt Bomer) decide to take it to the road and head to the big Stripper Convention for one last show, and convince Tatum’s Mike to join them, for old time’s sake. (The Stripper Convention, by the way, is apparently a real-life thing.) 

Plotwise in Magic Mike XXL, that’s about it. Along the way the crew loses driver Gabriel (Gabriel Iglesias) – and their ride – and hooks up with Mike’s old boss Rome, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. Rome runs her own club that includes characters played by Donald Glover (of Community fame) and NFL star Michael Strahan. They also hook up with a Southern belle played by Andie MacDowell. 

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There’s a kind of nonchalant malaise about Magic Mike XXL that reminded me of low-key studio B-movies from the 70s like Pocket Money or Prime Cut. It’s an easygoing kind of thing that doesn’t ask much of the viewer, and expects the same in return.

It’s an extremely likable enterprise, as long as you can go with the flow. Magic Mike XXL was written by Reid Carolin, who also wrote the previous entry, and directed by Gregory Jacobs, who was assistant director on the first (and many of Steven Soderbergh’s films, dating back to 1993’s King of the Hill).

They craft the same type of feel for this sequel, and while it’s looser and ganglier that Soderbergh’s original feature, it’s also a more intimate and revealing portrait of these characters. I suspect, however, that the earlier film’s tightness might have led to crossover appeal that this one may not have, though the extended striptease at the end attempts to make up for any previous shortcomings.

You don’t expect a film about male strippers to have much depth or insight into character. But Magic Mike had exactly that, and XXL has even more.

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