2012’s “Magic Mike” was one of the best surprises I have ever had going to the movies. A film that was advertised as Channing Tatum and a patsy of strippers getting hot, wild, and naked amongst a sea of women was actually a personal character study about a man looking to find himself and a career with very limited stripping. A lot of women were disappointed, I was not.
Well now Tatum and the patsy are back in “Magic Mike XXL” and if you’re looking for two hours of six-packs and grinding, you will be disappointed yet again, as this is more bro-mantic road comedy than it is stripfest.
“Magic Mike XXL” introduces us to Mike (Channing Tatum) who has now given up the stripper game and is running his own handmade furniture business. Business is going well for Mike until he meets up unexpectedly with his former stripping boys Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias), who inform Mike that they are having “one last ride” and heading to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Temptation hits Mike and he hits the road with guys, where they are thrown into a series of adventures on their way to the convention, like drags shows, brothels, drugs, and rich southern women.
The first “Magic Mike” focused mostly on Tatum’s Mike, Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas and love interest Brooke, played by Cody Horn, with limited screen time for any of the other strippers. Not the same in “XXL”, as we get to know and empathize with gang on a much deeper level while they travel from Tampa Bay to Myrtle Beach. He learn about their insecurities, their life goals, and get a real glimpse into their personalities. We also get some new characters, including Jada Pinkett Smith’s tough talking hype-woman Rome and Donald Glover as the smooth singing Andre.
We also get some great performances from the entire cast. Tatum’s star power continues to grow as he gives another charismatic, deep performance. Mangeniello grabs the bigger role and runs with it, taking a very simple character and impressively adding layers I didn’t think were possible. Nash, Bomer, and Rodriguez are all terrific as well. But the best performance in the film is from Pinkett Smith, who is a showstopper as Rome. She’s a strong, independent business woman with an ice cold look but a heart of gold. Her shining moment is at the end of the film, when she hypes the crowd for the guys’ final performances. She got everyone in the theater hyped, and even got me excited to see the dances. It is one of my favorite performances of the year.
Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”, “Ocean’s Eleven”) directing the first film gave it a certain dramatic flare that was really unexpected and kind of refreshing. “XXL” director Gregory James, who is Soderbergh’s long time first assistant director, has that similar flare, but also let’s the movie get fun and wild. Some of the scenes, like Mangeniello’s convenient store strip to “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, are random but also bizarrely brilliant. The closing dance numbers are intricate and exhilarating. Even the scenes of the boys just talking and messing with each other are sweet, intimate moments. Soderbergh not being attached worried me initially, but James definitely held his own.
“Magic Mike XXL”, at its core, is a film about friendship, not stripping. It is about going all out with your friends, helping them when they need you and always being by their side. Women will be disappointed by the lack of naked Tatum, but they’re in for a whirl at the end. The movie is a funny, entertaining, blast of film and one of the best surprises of 2015.
MY RATING – 3/4
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