Film Review: Magic Mike XXL (★★★½)

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magic_mike_xxl_ver10Just like Magic Mike turned out to be a surprisingly deep and satisfying film about the quest for the American Dream through the art of male stripping, Magic Mike XXL comes like a bolt from the blue to be one of the most purely enjoyable times at the movies so far in 2015. Despite not having the presence of scene stealer Matthew McConaughey or director Steven Soderbergh at the helm (the MVPs last time out), you immediately are delighted to again be hanging out with the Kings of Tampa, led one more time by Channing Tatum, at his most charismatic. This time around, everyone gets moments to shine, especially Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, and even Kevin Nash. Soderbergh is still on the fringes of the production, but directing Magic Mike XXL is protege Gregory Jacobs, who doesn’t miss a beat. This is the sort of sequel where everything is bigger and “more” is the operative word, but instead of seeming obligatory, it’s just a ton of fun. In fact, one scene, set in a convenience store, might be the most amusing scene of 2015 so far. Magic Mike was a darker and more serious film, but this sequel is just as good, albeit trafficking in lighter themes. That being said, this is one of the most sex positive films of 2015, especially when you consider it’s a major studio release. Believe it or not, Magic Mike XXL might very well be one of the ten best things I’ve seen to date this year. High praise, I know, but fully warranted.

We pick things up three years after Magic Mike ended. Mike (Tatum) has left the stripping game, initially to settle down with Brooke (an unseen Cody Horn) and continue his furniture business, though the former has left and the latter is struggling. He hasn’t seen the guys in years, though when Tarzan (Nash) leaves him an ominous message, he meets up with them, only to find out that things are mostly just fine. Ringleader Dallas (McConaughey, who also doesn’t appear) has left with The Kid (Alex Pettyfer, one more character who doesn’t return) for Asia, so the guys all are preparing for life after the club. They want one more big blowout first though, highlighted by a road trip from Florida to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina for an annual stripper convention. After only the tiniest bit of prodding, Mike sets out with Tarzan, Big Dick Richie (Manganiello), Ken (Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) on a road trip in a converted ice cream truck. Their adventures take them to a drag show, after which Mike meets photographer Zoe (Amber Heard), as well as a club from Mike’s past run by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) and featuring some new friends in Augustus (Michael Strahan), Malik (Stephen Boss), and Andre (Donald Glover), as well as other places where fun and male bonding occur. It all ends with a performance you have to see in order to believe.

magic-mike-xxlIt seems like only yesterday that I used to cringe when Channing Tatum would headline a film. Now, I actually look forward to it. Especially with this franchise, his charisma and dancing skills are put to perfect use, as well as his quick humor. All of the Kings of Tampa get moments in the sun here, but obviously Tatum is the highlight. It’s more of an ensemble effort though, as he’s observing as much as anything. Joe Manganiello is now the ringleader, hoping to get some last minute glory before figuring out what to do with his life, as well as bemoaning the situation his very unusual male appendage has brought his love life to. Manganiello’s sparring with Tatum is consistently amusing, while his scene I’ve hinted at in a convenience store is just an absolute explosion of comedy, with a terrific punchline to boot. Kevin Nash steps out from the background somewhat to be the comic relief this time around, while Matt Bomer is self serious to a hilarious fault. Adam Rodriguez and Gabriel Iglesias get less to do, but still manage to contribute. Everyone else mostly shows up for bits and pieces, with Donald Glover and Amber Heard underused, along with Jada Pinkett Smith. Elizabeth Banks and Andie McDowell cameo, while other supporting players besides Stephen Boss and Michael Strahan include the likes of Rhoda Griffis, Ann Hamilton, Carrie Anne Hunt, Mary Kraft, and Jane McNeill. Tatum is the unquestioned highlight, but the ensemble on the whole offers plenty.

Even though Gregory Jacobs is in the director’s chair, the Soderbergh influence can still be found. He’s the editor and cinematographer here (using his DP pseudonym Peter Andrews), so Jacobs is able to approximate his style from the first one. He’s a little more enamored with the dance sequences, which go on for too long during the second and third acts, but that’s a tiny complaint. It’s a looser film, less concerned with plot, though part of that is due to returning scribe Reid Carolin‘s script, but one that works all around. Magic Mike XXL seems like the natural progression in the franchise, going more for humor than anything else. It’s almost like the cinematic equivalent of a reunion party. The key is to spend time with everyone, and it’s a rousing success in that regard. The dialogue is incredibly naturalistic, so whether or not some of it was improved, the combination of the cast, Carolin, and Jacobs make for a truly engaging experience. Credit to them for also being open and honest about the fun of sex, while not doing anything beyond the realm of believability. Again, this is probably the pinnacle of sex positive cinema this year, which is not what you’d expect from a film chronicling the continued adventures somewhat immature male strippers.

Though less of a wannabe award player (remember the would be Best Supporting Actor campaign for McConaughey?) than Magic Mike was, Magic Mike XXL is still a superb piece of cinema and likely to be as big a hit, if not bigger. It’s an ideal summer movie with more going on than you’d expect. Between Tatum owning his role completely, the entire cast having a blast with each other, and the impressive dance choreography, it’s got something for just about everyone. Even at my press screening, there was hooting and hollering, both from some enjoying the visuals as well as from those just digging on the comedy of it all. I expected to like this flick, but I didn’t expect to love it like I did. Magic Mike XXL is a top notch sequel and one of my favorite films of 2015 so far.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!