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Magic Mike XXL
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by Peter Sobczynski

"They're Playing Our Thong"
2 stars

When it arrived in theaters in the summer of 2012, many observers assumed that "Magic Mike" was going to be little more than a salacious romp about male strippers designed to do nothing more than to show off the abs and dance moves of such hunks as Channing Tatum (who helped to devise the story that was inspired by his own experiences before becoming a movie star), Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Alex Pettyfer. Others wondered why director Steven Soderbergh would attach himself to a project that, at least on the surface, made "Ocean's 13" look like "Che" by comparison. As it turned out, the film turned out to be one of the more pleasant surprises of that summer because while it more than satisfied viewers who were lured in by the sexy ad campaign promising gyrating pelvises a-plenty, it also gave them a surprisingly strong screenplay that examined the plight of someone who had excelled in a rarefied field but who was getting to that scary point where it was time to move on to something new (after all, there are relatively few old-timers days at strip clubs), a stylish presentation of the material by Soderbergh and enormously winning and charismatic performances by Tatum, once again showing off his often-underrated acting talents alongside his chest, and McConaughey, who practically stole the show in his supporting turn.

The film defied all expectations and went on to become a huge hit at the box office, especially considering how cheap it was to produce, and it was perhaps inevitable that someone would get the bright idea to do a sequel--if I remember correctly, one was announced just after it overperformed in its opening weekend. Considering the length of time since the release of the original and considering that many of the key personnel stayed on in some capacity, including Tatum and Soderbergh, who passed the directorial reins on to his longtime assistant, Gregory Jacobs, but who nevertheless serves here as cinematographer and editor under his regular aliases Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, it is a little surprising to discover just how ramshackle the resulting film, "Magic Mike XXL" really is. With virtually no story to speak of, it feels as if it was thrown together in a couple of weeks in order to immediately cash in on the success of the first film. The result isn't as terrible as many of this season's sequels but those who liked the original for reasons other than the beefcake are likely to come out of this one convinced that, despite the implications inherent in the title, that bigger is not necessarily better.

As the story begins, Mike (Tatum) is still out of the stripping game and struggling to make a go as a furniture maker but is still willing to instantly bust a move or two in his garage workshop at the drop of "Pony" on the soundtrack. The siren song grows louder when his old crew, sans McConaughey and Pettyfer (both who have been written out in a manner that makes the explanation for Mila Kunis's absence from "Ted 2" seem satisfying by comparison), arrive in Tampa on their way to Myrtle Beach to perform for what they sense is the last time at a massive national stripper convention. After only a moment of hesitation, Mike rejoins the group and they are off. (His girlfriend from the first film, played by Cody Horn, has also been dispensed with in a klunky manner.) Along the way, they indulge in plenty of male bonding and Mike convinces them to chuck their old routines and go out in a blaze of glory with something a little more personal. Along the way, they make pit stops at an exclusive strip club where Mike tries to convince owner and former flame Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) to come along as their emcee and a beach house where the guys entertain a group of southern belles (led by Andie MacDowell) while Mike flirts in the kitchen with the spunky Zoe (Amber Heard).

In terms of drama, that is about all that "Magic Mike XXL" has to offer and that is pretty much the central problem. As I said before, the original actually included a relatively compelling storyline amidst the bumping and grinding but since it was the gyrations that got all the attention, it seems as if returning screenwriter Reid Carolin decided that since most people were going to ignore that stuff anyway, why bother including it. That is a shame because that was the stuff that kept it from just being a campfest--it presented a story that Tatum and Soderbergh clearly wanted to tell and you could feel that need burning in nearly every scene. "Magic Mike XXL," on the other hand, feels as though it was created only because the original made a ton of money and Warner Brothers wanted to make lightning strike twice. The end result isn't so much bad as it is lazy as it seems that no one wanted to put in much of an effort. For example, the screenplay could have simply eschewed a formal narrative for a fly-on-the-wall approach to the world of male stripping but it doesn't have anything new or interesting to say in that regard either. Even Soderbergh's usually keen senses for visual style and dramatic pacing are not exactly on display here--the film looks indifferent at best and sloppy at worst and the pacing is simply terrible--it clocks in at nearly two hours, which is a lot of time to spend on a narrative that is largely without form or tension.

On the other hand, the dance scenes are usually fairly entertaining--I especially enjoyed the initial one where Mike dances up a storm in his workshop while using his tools in ways that would give OSHA any number of fits--though the grand finale is, oddly enough, the least inventive and least interesting of the bunch. As usual, Channing Tatum is a joy to watch--he is, of course, charismatic as hell but the guy also has crack comic timing and genuine acting chops and while he doesn't get much of a chance to display those attributes here, most of the reason that the film work to whatever degree that it does is almost entirely because of his presence. The returning guys are also pretty amusing when they are just standing around bouncing off of each other in scenes that the film could have used more of throughout. As for the newcomers, Jada Pinkett Smith is okay but unfortunately for her, she is no Matthew McConaughey. Meanwhile, Amber Heard, she, unfortunately, may as well be Cody Horn since she gives a performance as sullen and glacial as Horn did in the original. (Heard and Tatum have one good scene sharing cake in a kitchen but other than that, there is precious little chemistry between the two.) On the other hand, Andie MacDowell is pretty great as a recent divorcee itching to get her groove back and possibly finding it in Manganiello, himself the victim of a recent romantic dry spell due to certain size issues--it isn't much of a part (and the entire sequence gets really weird when it throws in a potentially unknowing reference to one of the worst male stripper movies ever made, the Christopher Atkins vehicle "A Night in Heaven") but she manages to make the most of it and then some.

I don't hate "Magic Mike XXL" in the way that I hate something like "Jurassic World" but I must say that I was disappointed by it. The first one was so surprisingly fresh and inventive that to see something this forced and lazy following in its footsteps is a bummer to behold. I have no doubt that it will do quite well at the box office--the combination of the sexy advertisements, a chronically underserved female audience and the good will generated by the original film all but ensures that it will be a hit--but my guess is that even those who loved the first one, for whatever reasons, will not look upon this one quite as favorably. Put it this way--if there was such a thing as truth in movie titling, this one would certainly be renamed "Magic Mike Medium."

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27055&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/29/15 15:51:52
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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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