"Look, if you're not ready to bring it old school this weekend, then why don't you hop off this food truck right now."
2012's Magic Mike was one of the surprise hit films that year, and it worked on many levels by managing to be more than just a movie about male strippers. When the sequel, Magic Mike XXL, was announced, the creative team made it clear that this was going to be two hours of fan service. Everyone that decried the lack of stripping would finally be able to rejoice in all the hunky flesh on display, leading the other faction of fans like myself a little leery that the sequel would jettison everything that made the first film so good. While I'm happy to report that Magic Mike XXL isn't two hours of oiled pecs and shark jumping, anyone looking for an experience as edifying and hard-edged as the first film won't help but be let down by the film, if only slightly.
A huge component of the first film's appeal was a revelatory performance by Matthew McConaughey in what was the closest thing to that film's antagonist. He, Alex Pettyfer's The Kid, and Cody Horn's Paige are disposed of within the first five minutes of the film, casually tossed away via dialogue, in a sign of things to come with this film. While the film does have a plot, it's as threadbare as its wardrobe, and doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy male stripper world. The film is much funnier than the first film, and for about an hour, it moves at a clip and feels like the light, breezy film that most people wished the first one had been. The film's grueling second hour is its Achilles heel, however, grinding to a halt and never regaining its momentum fully.
Mike (Channing Tatum) has successfully made the transition from male stripper to small business owner, but when his former stripper buddies pass through on their way to a male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, Mike joins with them as a way to finally put his former life to bed via one last hurrah. That's it. That's the entire plot of the film, and it never gets more complicated than that, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that it never feels like it's trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was the first film, and a curse because it can't help but feel like a lightweight despite the title's king-sized moniker.
The film essentially serves as a vehicle to get the guys from one stripper heavy scenario to the next. While some of those diversions, like a visit to a drag club, work pretty well, most just overstay their welcome almost immediately. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that Jada Pinkett Smith's performance as a former employer and fling of Mike's ruins the film, her "look at me" shenanigans grind the film to a halt, and it's never as much fun once she enters the picture. Frankly no one could replace the high voltage performance McConaguhey gave in the first film, Pinkett Smith is hardly a replacement for that same volatility.
The first film's harder edges are all sanded down, such as its obsession with drugs and drug culture, which is more or less confined to one scene where the guys take a Molly and decide to change up their years-old routines. That scene does yield the film its funniest moment when Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) breaks it down in a convenience store while trying to make a dour clerk smile. The film could've used more moments of sheer exuberance like this, but the fact that it even retains such moments proves that it's a much more fun adventure than some may give it credit for. Other scenes, like an extended trip to Pinkett Smith's mansion, fall rather flat and don't add much of anything to the plot.
The performances, particularly from the returning cast members, are all solidly entertaining, with Manganiello stealing the show and becoming the closest thing to a McConaughey surrogate that this film has, especially during his dance set to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and especially Kevin Nash all fare extremely well with beefed up roles, and Tatum continues to prove why he's this generation's Patrick Swayze, a compliment of the highest order from one of Swayze's biggest fans. The first film's AD, Gregory Jacobs, takes over directorial duties from Steven Soderbergh, who's back as the film's editor and cinematographer, and the film looks nice and retains the first film's overtly bronzed color scheme. I wonder how he would have fared without his former boss on set everyday, and I'll simply say I'm glad that Soderbergh didn't turn his back on this franchise completely.
Magic Mike XXL isn't about to set the world on fire, but for fans of the first film and its characters, it will be time well spent in their company. The film definitely suffers from a lack of grit and shows a much sunnier side of the profession than the first film did, but at the very least it's not a rehash or retread of the first film. It blazes its own path, and while it will still likely fall well short of some fans' desire for more stripping, it's not a total waste of time and resources.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via Rotten Tomatoes]