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Magic Mike XXL
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by Brett Gallman

"The term climax applies in more ways than one."
4 stars

For better and for worse, “Magic Mike XXL” is the film most people likely expected its predecessor to be.

Back in 2012, “Magic Mike” was sold on the promise of beefcakes baring all for a delirious male revue, but director Steven Soderbergh was more interested in spinning a recession era tale that dared to assume there were personalities beneath all of those perfect abs, many of them wanting to do nothing more than to escape Tampa’s death grip (I mean, who wouldn’t?). This sequel, on the other hand, seems to have the perceived slight from that bait-and-switch in mind, as “Magic Mike XXL” delivers on those previous expectations—and then some.

Whether or not this is a good thing shifts with the ebbs and flow of a film that has a clear destination but sometimes putters in arriving at it. For a few minutes, it appears it’ll follow the lead of the original film, as it reveals that Mike (Channing Tatum) has half-achieved his dream of starting a furniture business. Operating out of a warehouse and with no retail space, he can’t even afford health insurance for his lone employee, which seems to weigh heavily on him—until a call from old buddy Tarzan (Kevin Nash) reunites him with the remnants of the Kings of Tampa, who have transformed a local motel into a temple of fleabag hedonism.

An uncomfortably young-looking girl in a motorcycle helmet bounces on the beds as the guys fill Mike in: having been ditched by ringleader Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, sadly absent but I doubt the film could handle him anyway), they’re making one last run up I-95 to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Naturally, Mike—who seems to be looking for any excuse to shed the burdens of real life—can’t resist making a voyage that quickly escalates into an epic, a sort of “Odyssey” for male entertainers, only the lotus eaters and sirens have been replaced with Molly pills and undersexed women in need of their services.

Save for those brief opening minutes, “Magic Mike XXL” operates in the same realm (and often with the same logic as) teen comedies. Much of the first half especially is a road trip movie where boys will be boys, and the only thing that really matters is reaching that goddamn stripper convention, the panacea that will cure whatever ills these meatheads have. Fuelled by the cast’s megaton wattage of chemistry, the film is at its best here, hanging fast and loose as the guys exchange back-and-forth, ball-busting banter (some of it uproarious, some of it flat, but this a wall-flinger of a comedy where stuff sticks to the wall out of sheer magnetism).

Their infectious camaraderie carries the film though its various potholes, including its lone true conflict: the loss of their van just outside of Savannah, GA thanks to an ill-advised bonding moment. The teen-movie mentality goes into hyperdrive, as no problem—be it a ride or lodging—is so insurmountable that it can’t be solved with a well-timed dance (read: gyrating) routine.

It’s at this point that “Magic Mike XXL” reveals itself for what it is: an exploitation movie masquerading as the weirdest “Step Up” sequel ever. In that tradition, the film a little jagged but excels where necessary; in this case, it’s not car crashes, severed heads, or explosions, but rather immaculately staged strip shows that practically coin a new sub-genre: absploitation.

The rare musical that speaks the language of hip-swivels and dry humping, “Magic Mike XXL” amusingly inverts the exploitation genre with its female gaze. Where so many films of this ilk are dedicated to having its male horndogs attempting to disrobe unsuspecting girls, this has the Kings of Tampa engaging in self-exploitation. Entire routines—including an improvised bit at a grocery store—are explicitly devoted making women smile. Even a girl (Amber Heard) Mike meets on the road is treated as a compatriot rather than a conquest, a concept that seems downright subversive.

But like many exploitation efforts, “Magic Mike XXL” occasionally sags when it hits long stretches of dialogue. Some of the pit stops here work and give the movie a hangout vibe, such as a car-ride conversation where two characters bond over shared and thwarted ambitions; others stall the film’s rambunctious energy and feature borderline ponderous dialogue that’s difficult to take seriously after you’ve seen Joe Manganiello grind against a vending machine. The polished look (courtesy of Soderbergh, who returns as cinematographer and editor) also feels a tad too slick—for a film that revels in seedy underbellies, “Magic Mike XXL” could feel a little grimier (Myrtle Beach has earned the “Dirty Myrtle” moniker for a reason).

Then again, that would perhaps be anathema to a film that also revels in sheer fantasy; unloosed from the earthy, squalid milieu of the first film, this follow-up is a euphoric march through a Deep South where burlesque houses and stripper joints lurk around every exit ramp. The Kings’ parade of debauchery carries them from hole-in-the-wall bars to an African-American club lorded over by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith, bringing just enough camp to the role), a former associate of Mike’s.

Whatever pacing issues the film has are eventually overcome by its sheer exuberance: each cameo feels like someone dropping in for a party, and it never wavers in its single-minded goal of arriving at, again, a stripper convention. I’m not even going to google to see if this is a real thing because I prefer to believe it is a construct of filmmakers who dared to dream up the most ludicrous endgame imaginable (if they are real, I assure you that Myrtle Beach would be ground zero for one, at least).

Fittingly, the film doesn’t blow its load until the Kings arrive to claim their crowns, at which point it completely indulges in rousing dance routines, where dollar bills swirl around these impossibly chiseled and fluid bodies in a Caligulan frenzy. If musicals are the purest form of cinema, then “Magic Mike XXL” is practically an uncut strand that might even double as an aphrodisiac.

Framing “Magic Mike XXL” as an exploitation movie helps it to elude the obvious criticisms: it’s nearly plotless, features no character arcs, and sometimes has trouble keeping up with its own runaway energy. And yet its zeal for throwing oneself into base pleasures is contagious, whether those pleasures involve elaborate strip shows or the company of your bros.

The latter extends to the audience: many may be in attendance to see these guys bare their bodies, but they occasionally find time to bare their souls. Who even knew that Kevin Nash was even capable of delivering a soulful moment, which fills a hole in our lives that we didn’t even know was there? His presence obviously recalls the brotherhood that is professional wrestling, and that same sort of comradeship is on display throughout, only it’s not as toxic. Ultimately, the subject here is a rare species: a pack of bros that doesn’t need to drive straight off of a cliff because they actually respect women and their needs.

Arguably nothing best summarizes the film better than its characters’ goal to simply reach the convention; there are no winners or losers, only a “tsunami of dollars” and the satisfaction of doing something for the thrill of it. Clearly, this was also the impetus behind “Magic Mike XXL” itself—and that’s not a criticism but rather an acknowledgement that blatant fan service and franchise exploitation can work so long as hypnotic abs are involved.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27055&reviewer=429
originally posted: 06/30/15 00:21:29
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User Comments

9/21/15 Kyndal Smith Loved the first one. This one was just raunchy the other one was more dancing & a story. 2 stars
7/26/15 Elizabeth Very entertaining; memorable stand-out sequence with Manganiello. 4 stars
7/08/15 Luke C Dude bros doin what dude bros do 3 stars
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  01-Jul-2015 (R)
  DVD: 06-Oct-2015

  03-Jul-2015 (15)

  09-Jul-2015 (MA)
  DVD: 06-Oct-2015

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