By Will Ashton
Gyrating at full throttle and pumped to the nines with unabashed testosterone, Magic Mike XXL is to 2012’s Magic Mike what whoopie pies are to molten chocolate lava cakes.
The first movie was an American dream tale concentrated on talking about the state of modern capitalism through scantily clad leads. This ride’s a little trashier, sweatier, agreeably over-saturated but also completely more bloated than it was before, and it’s pure fluff. But each bite is more delicious than the last, and sometimes it’s nice to indulge your sense in something sleazy every once-in-a-while. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a rowdy night out now-and-again?
With their hearts thumping and their grooves in full swing, the Kings of Tampa return to please as many people as they possibly can. Everybody comes back for a good time — except for one or two key players. Where Adam (Alex Pettyfer) ran off to is anyone’s guess, but Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) decided to hastily ditch town, subsequently leaving his crew in the cold.
With their MC out, the team — now consisting of Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and their temporary replacement MC Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) — decides it’s time for one final ride to a stripper convention in Tampa Beach. And with a little persuading, they ring back in bored new businessman Mike (Channing Tatum) for several nights of escapades driving their newly modeled truck throughout the Sunshine State.
Thus begins several nights and days of dancing on different stages, popping Molly, impromptu stripping, drinking beer, sharing laughs and meeting a couple of new faces. Those include amateur artist Zoe (Amber Heard), heart-melting musician Andre (Donald Glover) and Mike’s former stripper employer Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), all of whom help the boys get their shot at the convention’s glory.
If you thought the first movie had little plot, you’ll be shocked by how low stakes things are for this two-hour duration. Seriously, the lack of conflict in Magic Mike XXL makes Entourage look like Argo. This is purely a variety show — filled with as many musical cues, well-choreographed dance numbers and hip pumping as feasibly possible in two hours time — and it has no false notions about this whatsoever.
While, indeed, entirely a demonstration of male entertainers strutting their stuff, Magic Mike XXL still does a commendable job in balancing character motivations between flirting with girls, defining their stage presence and commenting on everyone’s impeccable looks. Each primary character gets their individual moment to shine, because director Gregory Jacobs, returning writer Reid Carolin and producer Tatum are highly aware of what they want this sequel to be, and are never afraid to give the ladies and gents in the audience the good time they so desperately plead for.
Explored in this sequel are the best qualities every performer can bring, with Manganiello’s well endowed stripper this round’s MVP. He’s given more heart to shine, jokes to spitfire and soul to express, and the True Blood alum gives every moment his all and steals every second he can. Everyone gets their moment to sing, however, and work as a team in a productive and, therein by, narratively fruitful manner. We get to learn about those we didn’t know much about before — particularly Tarzan and Ken, in addition to Richie — and see what they can bring to the team when allowed to shine.
This is where Magic Mike XXL succeeds and Pitch Perfect 2 failed. While both let their teams get their loose stories and raggedy morals subside for cheeky antics — in this case, in more ways than one — only Jacobs’ film utilizes its potential both in terms of performance talent and character interaction. Their bonding feels real and heartfelt, and with each step you can see how much they love and care about one another. The stripping and sideshows do feel completely forced, but their chemistry is natural and their fun is infectious. This all while producing genuine laughs and fantastic numbers, both of which Elizabeth Banks’ film couldn’t provide.
“It’s not bro time, it’s showtime,” Rome notes at one point, and this sentiment guides Jacobs’ film with a firm leach. Magic Mike XXL is entirely about the show, and what a show it is. Flabbier, lighter and also oddly a little more turned down (there are more routines, if less actual nudity this time around) than before, it’s nevertheless an earnest crowd-pleaser through-and-through. The cast is energized, the atmosphere well contained, the entertainment value heartily rationed, and there’s still plenty of lotion-lathered skin to behold. It’s not as sophisticated or smart or lean as it once was, but it’s a damn good time all the same.
Sometimes you just want to sit back and bask in the glory of steamy sensations, and Tatum and the boys are here to give such pleasures with everything they’ve got. Magic Mike XXL is a delightfully naughty little desert much like the first, even if it’s packaged with more carbs and sugar. But the summer season is all about indulgences, and this one is a satisfying desert break worth savoring, much like eating a nice ice-cream sandwich walking on the hot boardwalk pavement. You cares if it’s messy and empty, so long as it goes down as sweet and savory as this?