Movie Review: “Magic Mike XXL”

Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Jada Pinkett Smith, Amber Heard
Gregory Jacobs

One of the biggest complaints about “Magic Mike” was that it was a lot more serious than people were expecting for a film about male strippers, and producer/star Channing Tatum addressed that issue with the promise that the upcoming sequel would be a much lighter affair. And you can’t say that Tatum isn’t a man of his word, because “Magic Mike XXL” couldn’t be any more different from the original. Whereas Steven Soderbergh’s movie was a moody drama about the dark underbelly of the stripper lifestyle that focused on character and story, “XXL” (which was directed by Soderbergh understudy Gregory Jacobs) is an upbeat and whimsical bro-fest that plays like a racier, bizarro version of “Entourage.” Both films are good for their own reasons, but “XXL” is definitely the more enjoyable of the pair.

Three years after leaving the stripper life to pursue his dream of starting his own custom furniture business, “Magic” Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) reunites with the remaining Kings of Tampa – Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Ritchie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) – for a wild night out on the town. When he learns that the group is being disbanded after their boss, Dallas (played by Matthew McConaughey in the first movie), fled to Macau for greener pastures, Mike agrees to join them on their road trip to the annual stripper convention in Myrtle Beach for one last blow-out performance. But after their MC (Gabriel Iglesias) gets injured in a car accident, Mike is forced to call on an old friend from his past, former lover and business partner Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), for help in pulling off their one-night show, complete with new, personalized routines.

“Magic Mike XXL” is everything the first film should have been and more – a fun and energetic road movie that makes up for its loose structure by unabashedly pandering to the audience. Oddly enough, it works better as a sequel, since it allows Jacobs to jump right into the story without having to worry about introductions or establishing the camaraderie between the five guys. Additionally, returning writer Reid Carolin’s script does a good job of quickly explaining the absence of McConaughey, Alex Pettfyer and Cody Horn’s characters (the latter two of whom were the worst parts of the original) so it can focus on the core group, whose undeniable chemistry is the lifeblood of the film.

Unlike its predecessor, “XXL” is much more of an ensemble piece. Tatum is still the star, but supporting players like Bomer, Rodriguez and Manganiello (who has the best scene in the movie) are given more to do this time around. Jada Pinkett Smith also shines in her role as the headstrong female MC, as does Donald Glover as a silky-smooth singer under Rome’s employ, while Andie MacDowell and Elizabeth Banks pop up in amusing cameos. The only weak links in the cast are Kevin Nash, who still can’t act his way out of a paper bag, and Amber Heard, whose character (a potential love interest for Mike) is such a wet blanket for a majority of the movie that it grinds to a halt whenever she’s onscreen.

As expected, the dance sequences are once again the highlight, with a handful of show-stopping numbers that are so theatrical it could easily be turned into a traveling stage show. (Don’t think that someone at Warner Bros. hasn’t already considered it.) “XXL” is the kind of movie that’s best experienced with a large, boisterous crowd, as it not only benefits from audience participation, but practically encourages all the whooping and hollering that’s bound to occur among its (mostly) female fanbase. The whole film is basically one long, self-aware wink at the audience, and though it’s slightly ridiculous and lacking any real substance, it’s also incredibly entertaining, with rarely a dull moment despite the almost two-hour runtime. You have to respect a movie that does exactly what it sets out to achieve (in this case, slow-jam beefcake cheesiness) and doesn’t apologize for it, because “Magic Mike XXL” embraces that attitude full tilt and never looks back.