Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Stars: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Jada Pinkett Smith, Amber Heard, Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks.
Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 film Magic Mike, about a group of male strippers, had a gritty and darker edge as it was also something of a cautionary tale about the downside of chasing fame and fortune and it also dealt with the impact of the economic crisis. Because it became an unexpected hit at the box office we now get this largely unnecessary and inconsequential sequel, which has more pelvic thrusts, ripped abdomens, naked flesh, male eye candy, and raunchy gyrations than a six pack of gay porn.
Reid Carolin, who wrote the script for the original, has also scripted the sequel, but he seems bereft of ideas for this one, and this is a lazy film that adds little to the concept. Soderbergh, who has given up directing films, hands the directorial reins to his long time assistant director Gregory Jacobs, who only has a couple of little seen B-grade features to his name. But unlike Soderbergh, Jacobs lacks subtlety and seems to have little understanding of nuance or pacing and rhythm. His direction is hamfisted and laboured. But a lot of the problem lies with the underwhelming script from Carolin.
Magic Mike XXL is set three years after the events of the first film. Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has left the troupe to pursue his business constructing furniture. But his business is struggling and he can barely afford to pay his assistant. He is not as satisfied as he thought he would be when he left behind his former world. So when the rest of his former stripper troupe come knocking he reluctantly joins them for one final gig. There is an early sequence in which Mike begins to get back into the groove, dancing around his small workshop, a sequence which is surprisingly phallic and suggestive.
Big Dick Ritchie (Joe Manganiello) has grown tired of the same old routine but is reluctant to change after so many years. He gets one of the film’s best and most enjoyable moments when he tries to make a surly convenience store clerk smile. The handsome Ken (Matt Bomer, from White Collar, The Normal Heart, etc) wants to pursue a career as a singer; the rugged Tarzan (wrestler Kevin Nash) reveals his troubled persona is largely the result of having served a tour of duty during Desert Storm; Tito (Adam Rodriguez, from CSI Miami, etc) now owns a tropical ice cream truck and wants to operate his own business. But first they want to go out in style with one last show at the annual Stripper’s Convention in Myrtle Beach Florida.
Thus sets in motion a road trip, and all the usual tropes of male bonding such a journey entails, as Mike tries to reconnect with the gang. Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) has left the troupe and headed off to Europe with the youngster played by Alex Pettyfer in tow. McConaughey’s absence is noticeable here as he had such a charismatic presence, and his rivalry with Mike brought plenty of tension to the group dynamic.
There are a few pit stops along the way, including a visit to a gay night club where the boys strut their stuff in a dance competition. Then it’s on to an exclusive high class club run by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), Mike’s former girlfriend. She runs an exclusive joint where the ladies throw bundles of money at the handsome strippers. Mike has to convince her that he still has the goods before she will agree to accompany them to the convention. And there is also a brief visit to the home of unhappy middle aged divorcee Nancy (Andie MacDowell, in a small thankless role she probably did as a favour to Soderbergh, who virtually kick started her career with the independent drama Sex, Lies And Videotape.)
And it all climaxes at the stripper convention where the boys finally strut their stuff in a series of raunchy but superbly choreographed routines that excite and titillate the female audience. But this extended sequence seems misogynist and troubling, and even down right sleazy.
The main cast certainly delivers some athletic and raunchy performances, and Tatum certainly can move with grace and style. But much of the characterisation here is pretty slim and most of the characters are one dimensional. Few of the actors are given much chance to breathe life into their characters.
Pinkett Smith brings a sassy quality to her role. Community‘s Donald Glover has a fairly bland presence as Andre, an aspiring musician who moonlights in Rome’s club while awaiting his breakthrough. Gabriel Iglesias brings some touches of humour to his role as Tobias, the group’s driver. Amanda Heard also has a fairly bland presence as Zoe, a potential new romantic interest for Mike. And Elizabeth Banks (recently seen in Pitch Perfect 2 and Love & Mercy) is wasted as the host of the stripper convention.
Soderbergh is still attached to the project though as he is credited as one of the executive producers. And he also shot the film under his familiar pseudonym of Peter Andrews and also edited it. His cinematography does give the material a lush visual quality and it does look great.
But ultimately, Magic Mike XXL is a bit of a mess, and seems disjointed, meandering and episodic in nature, and unnecessarily bloated. And a lot of the dialogue, especially during those bonding sessions on the road, is largely incomprehensible. Its 115 minute running time is overly generous, given how little the film has to say.