Magic Mike XXL is a raucous, big-hearted, campy and crowd-pleasing sequel to 2012’s male stripper bros hit, Magic Mike, based on incidents in the past life of star-producer Channing Tatum. Missing in action this time around are the scene-stealing Matthew McConaughey (gone to Oscar glory and annoyingly pretentious TV car commercials) and Alex Pettyfer (just, well, gone) and director Steven Soderbergh, although the latter serves as cinematographer for the film’s director Gregory Jacobs, Soderbergh’s first assistant director since the ‘90s. Gone, too, is the first movie’s gritty sense of drama and its backdrop of drug addiction and tough economic times. Instead, Magic Mike XXL, which would appear to have a pretty loose, seat-of-its-pants script by Reid Carolin, is a ramshackle road trip flick that doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is: a good-natured excuse for a bunch of crazily chiseled dudes to show off their assets to adoring females who pelt them with squeals and greenbacks.
Happily, it’s also about guys who enjoy hanging out with each other, getting high on molly, and busting each others’ chops. It’s a fun hang, especially because the returning stars share such easy and infectious chemistry. When the movie kicks off, Mike (Channing Tatum, full of goofball, mellow charm) has retired from the daily bump and grind of being a “male entertainer” and is (sort of) putting food on the table running his own custom furniture business. But even he can’t resist the chance to shake his moneymaker while doing his thing in a workbench dance sequence that’s sort of recalls Flashdance — only with slithery moves and jackhammer pelvic thrusts.
So, it’s probably a good thing the magic man gets a call from old crewmember Tarzan (Kevin Nash) to join his buds — played by Matt Bomer, Joe Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello and Adam Rodriguez — en route to a “one last ride” Myrtle Beach male stripper convention. Off they go in a battered frozen yogurt truck making dance-off stops at a drag club on amateur night and at a roadside convenience store where Manganiello gives the frozen faced female counter clerk an eyeful. Things get squirrely in a way-too-long, Eyes Wide Shut-ish interlude featuring Jada Pinkett Smith (having a ball fusing her Gotham character with Mae West) as an old flame of Tatum’s who runs a Savannah private club where women rain down money on the rippling muscles and gyrating crotches of studs. The bro-mance movie even makes time for Amber Heard, who plays the sullen, Manhattan-bound photographer daughter of a sexually unfulfilled Southern belle played by Andie MacDowell (who got her start in Soderbergh’s sex, lies and videotape), who wants to sink her claws into Manganiello. The amusingly deadpan Heard and Tatum square off nicely in a double entendre-laden, fully clothed kitchen scene that’s hotter than anything else in the whole movie.
The movie spends a lot of time on the dancers deciding to drop their old school Village People-worthy shticks like cowboy and firefighter and do something fresher and edgier. Which reminds us that, although Magic Mike XXL plays at being naughty, its plot is pretty much identical to Pitch Perfect 2, right down to hot, curvaceous Elizabeth Banks turning up as MC of the climactic male stripper contest. It’s great to see an American movie that’s gung-ho on sex and good times that it isn’t afraid to tap the heartstrings as it pushes the G-strings. It’s big fun.