Review: 'Magic Mike XXL' continues to enchant
"Magic Mike XXL" comes up a little short compared to the original, director Steven Soderbergh's blithe and bonny Channing Tatum showcase inspired by Tatum's salad days as a male stripper. This time the jokes are heavier, more on-the-nose, though a surprising percentage of them work anyway.
And yet the sequel works, for reasons that are simple and quite unusual. Feel free to quit reading the review here, because why lie? You've already determined whether you're going to see this thong (sorry, "thing") or not based on its promise of even more stripper routines. The promise is fulfilled, for the record.
Most sequels rely on overt conflict and ginned-up crises to push the story forward. "Magic Mike XXL" goes the other way. It strips down to its narrative skivvies, and says in effect: Let's not kid ourselves. You're not here, with your wad of singles in hand, to see a movie about the dark night of Magic Mike's soul. The script by Reid Carolin is hilariously casual in its plotting. It's an amiably ramshackle road-trip movie, with the guys reuniting because it feels so good, and because there's a male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The sequel is directed by Soderbergh's longtime assistant director and collaborator Gregory Jacobs. It retains the original's sunny, democratic vibe and refreshing lack of meanness.
Tatum: Has Tatum grown into a better actor than he was three years and 11 films ago? Certainly he has become a star; certainly audiences enjoy the guy, and "Foxcatcher" proved he could learn from first-rate talents. "Magic Mike XXL" tweaks Tatum's newfound respectability. Mike runs his own furniture-making business, and he's at his workbench one evening, and his old stripper theme "Pony" comes on Spotify or whatever. And suddenly he's doing the patented Tatum moves, and he likes it!
Like everything else in "Magic Mike XXL," Tatum's nominal love interest, a New York-bound photographer played by the supremely blase Amber Heard, comes with a take-me-or-leave-me air that's sort of winning. Andie MacDowell pops up as a sexually bereft divorcee whose outlook improves once Mike and the boys are invited in for drinks.
My favorite shot in "Magic Mike XXL" is that of Manganiello backstage, about to compete, a little freaked out by a rival stripper's homage to "Twilight." No twilight for this crew. And, against the odds, no shame for this particular sequel.