Steven Soderbergh is an executive producer of MAGIC MIKE XXL, but that is the only trace of that director to be found in this sequel that is more about joy than angst. Channing Tatum, returning as the eponymous male stripper, has taken the fun and dazzle from the original and eschewed most of the cerebral musings. Instead of the contrast between sex and intimacy, connection and hooking up, and the subtle diminution of those who pander and those who are the pand-ees, there is a celebratory mood. There is an exaltation of asking a woman exactly what she wants, and the exhilaration of having that request satisfied. Is it an intellectual exercise designed to get those synapses popping? Heck, no. Is it a good time at the movie? Heck, yes!
The, ahem, stripping away process has left us with a film heavy on dancing and light on plot. It doesn’t matter. There are miles of smiles as Mike, now a semi-successful small-business owner, succumbs to the lure of strutting his stuff on the stage for the delight of women brandishing dollar bills. In a slick plot point that brings him together with the old gang from MAGIC MIKE, and that explains why their former employer, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) is nowhere to be found, but, oddly, not why Adam (Alex Pettyfer) is MIA, Mike finds himself on the road from Tampa to Myrtle Beach and one last big show. Along the way through the steamy back roads of the south, there is an effervescent trading of barbs and quips and hopes and dreams intended to bring us up to date on the sea-changes and backgrounds of Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias), including bouts of spirituality, semi-shocking revelations, and a new definition of being able to fit in the glass slipper of fairy tale fame. It’s all done with a puckish sensibility, light on drama, heavy on silliness, and with nary a mean bone in its metaphorical body.
Part of Mike’s backstory, in addition to why he’s still available to the right lady, is Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), the sultry proprietor of an empowering strip emporium where the customers are royalty, and the dancers do more than ripple their abs onstage. Part if is front story is Amber Heard, as the free-spirit of a photographer who has as much trouble as I do with Mike’s dislike of red velvet cake. Apparently no one is perfect. N.B.:For those only familiar with Donald Glover from his role as Troy on television’s Community, prepare to be blown-away by his ripped physique and the rapturous rap he performs for Rome’s clientele.
What matters here is the dancing, an unexpectedly bold blend of pure sexuality and giddy aesthetics. The fanciful scenarios of the climactic competition, including a tempting blend of chocolate, whipped cream, and extreme suggestiveness, fulfills its promise of an unadulterated prurient wallow, but it’s nothing to Tatum’s skills in earlier moments, including the initial routine, performed solely for his own character’s amusement amid the tools of his furniture-building trade. Graceful, ingenious, and with a testosterone-fueled fluidity that evokes the immortal Gene Kelly at his best, but with a sexual component in even the least suggestive moments that Kelly dared not approach. Yet for all the hormone-inducing moves, Tatum retains a curiously wholesome glee as well as a frank pleasure in defying gravity. The message is clear, the dancing is as much for him as for any audience, and that is why it is so irresistible.
MAGIC MIKE XXL is a present to the ladies (and gay men) in the audience. Never coy, always respectful, this is a supersized serving of eye-candy concocted to please. And it does.