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‘Magic Mike XXL’ Review: Just Like Riding a Pony

Magic Mike XXL review
Warner Bros.

Magic Mike was a movie about strippers trying to make ends meet in the midst of the Great Recession, the difficulty of modern romance, and the dangers of drug use. Magic Mike XXL is a movie about strippers stripping. And not a whole lot else.

If that’s what you want out of Magic Mike, you’ve come to the right place; XXL offers more thrusting, undulating, bumping, and grinding than Magic Mike did, with a lot less moralizing and bad vibes. Channing Tatum’s “Magic” Mike Lane spent most of the first film trying to get out of the stripping world and open his own custom furniture business. But just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in by his thong and stuffed a wad of $100s into it.

Three years after the first movie, Mike’s retired from stripping, but the world of entrepreneurship is not all he hoped it would be. Mostly he’s a glorified furniture mover, schlepping his pieces from one showroom to another. He can’t even afford to pay his sole employee’s health insurance. Suddenly stripping sounds like a good idea again, so he rejoins his old buddies from Tampa’s Xquisite Strip Club. With Steven Soderbergh ceding the director’s chair to his longtime A.D. Gregory Jacobs (Soderbergh remains the film’s cinematographer and editor), life becomes one big party; the final act of XXL is just an extended (heh) exotic dance routine in front of hundreds of screaming women.

Their screaming is entirely appropriate, mind you; the stripping in Magic Mike XXL is outrageous, hilarious, and very impressive. Tatum is a particularly gifted dancer. My old colleagues at The Dissolve used to refer to him as “The Big Brisket,” but for a giant slab of beef, he moves with uncanny grace and dexterity. In his first number, he’s working on a piece of metal in his workshop when his signature song, Ginuwine’s “Pony,” comes on the radio. Unable to resist the groove, he starts frolicking through his tools and machines; soon he’s spinning and flipping off tables and columns. It’s like Fred Astaire dancing onto the ceiling in Royal Wedding, only Channing Tatum doesn’t need special effects to defy gravity. After watching him ruminate on the sad life of a G-stringer in the last film, all it takes are these few minutes of gyrating bliss to convince us Mike needs to get back to work(ing it).

From there, the plot involves Mike and the Xquisite boys (minus Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer, whose absence is explained by a couple lines of dialogue) traveling from Florida to a stripper convention. Along the way, there’s sexy dancing in an old Southern mansion, sexy dancing at a drag show, and, in a particular highlight, sexy dancing in a gas station convenience store. Basically Magic Mike XXL is an old fashioned musical with more dubstep and less singing (and pants).

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Like any good road trip movie there are occasional pit stops along the way. In one particularly appealing digression, Mike arrives at a private club looking to recruit an old friend played by Jada Pinkett Smith to join his crew, and instead gets a lengthy and very impressive tour of her pleasure palace, where male entertainers (including one played by Michael Strahan) delight scads of horny women. Later they make the acquaintance of a divorcee (a hilarious Andie MacDowell) and her randy friends, and wind up entertaining them for an evening. There’s not much in the way of stakes or drama in any of these sequences, but the mood is sex positive, the dialogue by Reid Carolin is good, and the things these men can do with their pelvises are truly remarkable.

If Magic Mike XXL has a message (besides, y’know, Joe Manganiello’s abs are a work of art) it’s about the importance of bringing passion to whatever you do, including stripping. Mike convinces his buds to toss off their cliched firefighter and cop routines and find ways to express themselves through their dances. Matt Bomer, whose Ken is a struggling musician, begins singing while he strips. Kevin Nash’s Tarzan loves to paint, so he incorporates brushes and canvases into his performance. Mike performs an intricate homage to the Marx Brothers’ mirror scene from Duck Soup. He probably should have done a number about finding ways to pay his employee’s health insurance through lap dances, but you let it slide because what he does instead such a magnificent display.

Elizabeth Banks provides a hilarious cameo as the stripper convention’s manager, but the movie misses McConaughey and Cody Horn, and as pro-woman and pro-women’s pleasure as Magic Mike XXL is, it’s lacking in the compelling female character department (Smith comes the closest, but she’s all enigmatic sultriness and no substance). Still, the movie is, at worst, a very fun ride. I sort of preferred Magic Mike when it was as much about the guys as it was about their jiggling, but let’s be honest: People don’t go to strip clubs to feel depressed.

Additional Thoughts:

-Not to nitpick, but shouldn’t the title be Magic Mike 2XL? Or can we at least all agree to pronounce it as “two XL” instead of “X-X-L”? That would be great.

-Soderbergh may not be XXL’s director, but the film still looks like his work, thanks to his dynamic and quirky camerawork and lighting. Nobody else would introduce Amber Heard’s character on a secluded beach lit only by the flicker of a distant fire pit.

-My advice to men who see Magic Mike XXL: Avoid looking at reflective surfaces for at least 24 hours after the film ends.

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