When a critic sets themselves up to watch a sequel to a poorly executed and sometimes painful-to-watch stripper film, one usually goes in trying valiantly to shove those feelings aside and bring with them an open mind. Usually they fail. Instead leaving the cinema so thoroughly disappointed at even bothering that they go home to write a scathing review, all the while shaking their fist in condemnation and vowing never watch something like that again. Ok, a little dramatic, but also a little true too. This time however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Magic Mike XXL was not a film I would feel falls into this category. I mean, by no way is it a box office blow-out, or Academy Award worthy piece, but Magic Mike XXL was, however, not entirely mind-numbing or vacuous either. For the most part. Of course the cynics will be saying “did we need another Magic Mike (2012) film in the world?” The answer is no, probably not. But it’s certainly a lot better than a whole number of films floating around out there. And despite relying on clumsily clichéd lines like ‘its show-time not bro-time’, the film actually does manage to bring a good mix of both.
Story-wise, there is little new or imaginative to go on. In fact there is little of substance at all really. But as someone paying to go to this film are you really telling me you expect there would be? Three years have passed since the events of the first film, with Mike now settled into running his custom furniture business and the dull, dreary, depressing world that this entails. His business is ok, but not hitting the benchmark of successful. His love life has ended but he’s trying not to think about it. And he still occasionally has a dance in his garage, but doesn’t want to really on that for the rest of his life. Then he gets a call from the ‘Kings of Tampa’, the rag-tag group of strippers *cough male entertainers cough*, who are making their way to Myrtle Beach and the annual Stripper Convention for their ‘one last job’ style ploy. Can anyone say road trip! Along the way there’s old friends by way of a sultry country club strip-house, new friends by way of some southern, sex-crazed middle aged women, and in between there’s plenty of entertainment by way of dance numbers and group bonding.
For the most part a majority of the old faces return for the ride, including Matt Bomer as Ken, Joe Manganiello as Big ‘Dick’ Richie, Kevin Nash as Tarzan, Adam Rodriguez as Tito, and of course Tatum as Mike. Only Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey sit the film out, their absence explained away in a brief throwaway moment that begins the film. Without the streamlined abbs of McConaughey, Manganiello and Bomer get bigger bit parts, and we as an audience relish the change, both hating Ken’s Reiki pseudo bullshit and loving his soulful charming side, whilst eagerly awaiting Manganello’s comedic moments, especially after a well-constructed and executed Gas-N-Go convenience store performance positioned halfway through the film. Behind the director’s chair Gregory Jacobs has taken the reins from Soderbergh, and we can certainly feel the difference, with the piece a warmer, more brotherly, and basically not so downright depressing and moody take than the first film. Jacobs wisest move is playing-up the fun loving side in exactly the way audiences desired from the first flick.
Strangely, but also refreshingly, the film even reads as a somewhat crude and warped feminist piece. Never once do we see the female body exposed like the men are, with the women treated just as Rome continuously refers to them as - ‘Queens’. Additionally there is a raft of supporting female characters who add to the piece rather than become the relegated ‘filling a quota’ trope. Jada Pinkett Smith and Andy McDowell stand out as two such strong, independent women. Perhaps best of all in this production, is the beautiful array of realistic body types, ages, and ethnicities, given to the girls who beseech the special stripper treatment from the boys. No longer does the bland ‘white, hot, crop-topped babes’ Tinsel Town is used to beautifying their films with hold up here. Perhaps this is because the studio and production team know their intended audience. Perhaps it’s because for once the tables are turning in Hollywood to challenge the theorized 'male view'. Whatever the reason, I’ll let you be the judge.
Although this film tries to build story where there honestly isn’t any, unlike its predecessor, when its focus on trying to be ‘thoughtful’ and ‘deep’ begins to dig at the audiences desires for more dance moves, it lightens the mood and provides. There’s class and style to the dancing, and even though it would have made for better entertainment had there been just a little more of it, there is enough to tide over even the most unenthusiastic ticket-holder. The choreography is beautifully designed and skilfully executed, and there is little doubt that Tatum has talent and flair for such dance films. The other characters continue to play the background to his dance sets, and whilst there are some nice final routines from Manganiello and Bomer’s characters, none of them hold a flame to Mike’s magic moves.
What sells the film above all is that it never tries to paint itself as anything it’s not. The drugs are loose, the partying’s hard, and the grinding intense. And let’s not forget the amount of times the F-Bomb is dropped. This is an adult’s movie through and through, and it certainly provides more substance and depth than Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) foolishly thought it could bring to the genre earlier this year. Audiences know what to expect going into the movie, and for those who want to see a fun, light-hearted, and hyper-sexualised stripper flick, Magic Mike XXL works its charm. For everyone else, try Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) for some action, or Southpaw (2015) for some drama, and save us all the criticism.
Rating: 3 Sexy Strippers out of 5
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