Director: Gregory Jacobs
Cast: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Donald Glover and Amber Heard
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: July 3rd
2012’s Magic Mike was a pleasant surprise, a movie about male strippers that went beyond buff bods and babes to interrogate the sale of male sexuality at a time when manufacturing and construction jobs were in decline in the post-recessionary US. Stephen Soderbergh served up the dark side of debauchery and excess that came along with the lifestyle led by Mike and his boys, and our titular protagonist’s progression from this world to one in which he runs his own custom furniture business and is ready to settle down is viewed as a positive, aspirational and mature move.
Yet Magic Mike XXL sees Mike (Tatum) in a rut, struggling through his day job, dumped by his dream girl, his only release busting a move in his workshop to an audience of angle grinders and table saws. So when he discovers his old friends in the Kings of Tampa troupe (Manganiello, Bomer, Rodriguez, Nash) are travelling to Myrtle Beach to do a farewell performance at a stripper convention (yes, really), he can’t resist going on the road to do one more show.
With Alex Pettyfer’s mopey newcomer Adam gone this time around, the focus is much more on the members (…sorry) of the supporting cast, the aspect of this film that is most improved from its predecessor. The cast have great chemistry, and there’s a neat, clean synergy between each character’s personality, aspirations and dance style. Lively, engaging choreography plays to each actor’s strengths: Dancer and former stripper Tatum is given nimbler, more athletic moves, while Manganiello – who steals every scene he appears in and is arguably the MVP here – has routines which play to his power and build, Rodriguez’ to his lithe physique, and Bomer, not a trained dancer, is most effective when slinking seductively around crooning at ladies.
Aptly for a summer blockbuster, XXL is not unlike a superhero movie, its protagonists a witty motley crew of incredible physical ability who don costumes to perform thrilling feats. It’s also not unlike a superhero movie in that the plot often suffers at the expense of spectacle and glamour, occasionally feeling more like a YouTube playlist than a structured narrative. Arguably, this greater emphasis on dancing and extravagant performances in XXL is just a shift in focus; though one could counter, it’s a victory for style over substance. There are some hints of the emotional intelligence of the first, with some nice commentary on costumes and routines, and humorous call-backs and meta-references worthy of Tatum’s Jump Street series, but for better or worse, XXL ultimately becomes the film many presumed Magic Mike would be: Bigger, bolder, and buffer.
If one was to be cynical about it, you could accuse Jacobs and co. of overly pandering to these expectations and to their audience – the sheer range of women ‘worshipped’ and ‘healed’ by Mike and his crew’s heady mix of emotional support and physical attention looks like a checklist of potential demographics for this film. And though it’s exciting to see women of all ages, races, and dress sizes exalted by the Kings of Tampa, the characterisation of these female characters is slight. Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Rome is the most interesting and tellingly, her role was originally written for a man. (Though let’s not even get into the politics of how a man named Rome, operating a private palatial strip club in which black men dress like gladiators would be perceived ideologically.) Pinkett-Smith also has incredible chemistry with Tatum, much more so than his ostensible romantic interest Amber Heard, a comprehensive collection of hipster clichés that never really comes alive behind the eyes.
With its narrative going off-road in the name of ambitious set-pieces and jokes, XXL may be much more of a party movie than its smarter older brother, but its fun, warmth and good humour is solely needed to repair the name of male camaraderie in the wake of the Entourage movie.