Magic Mike XXL

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As Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) repeatedly stresses, the men of Magic Mike XXL aren’t male strippers. They’re male entertainers. And boy, do they know how to entertain.

It’s routine for sequels to basically amplify the motivators of their predecessors, and while a handful manage to outdo the originals, many more fail. Magic Mike XXL avoids these problems by stripping the film of conflict. Aside from some brief tension between Mike (Channing Tatum) and Ken (Matt Bomer) that’s pretty quickly resolved, XXL is focused squarely on entertaining its audiences.

Three years have passed since Mike quit the stripping scene to design custom furniture. As it turns out, he’s still struggling. The day-to-day business dealings are getting to him, as is the fact that he can’t afford health insurance for his one employee. When the remnants of the Kings of Tampa – Richie, Ken, Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) – tell him that they’re going on a final hurrah to the Stripper Convention (seriously, that’s the name) in Myrtle Beach, Mike finds himself drawn back to his old gig. Along the way, the group finds a new emcee for the event in Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), a successful businesswoman with her own club in Savannah called Domina.

While audiences showed up in droves to Magic Mike, one common complaint I heard (and certainly echoed) was that the film seemed like it would focus more on the fun, not on the behind-the-scenes elements that eventually drove Mike away from stripping. If that’s what audiences wanted, Magic Mike XXL makes sure that’s what they get. Over the span of a few days, the Kings of Tampa make their way to Myrtle Beach, making stops at various places where they inevitably encounter women and perform.

The “women” part of that last sentence is important. Without the presence of Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the film removes the element that mostly kept women in their seats in the first film. Here, they’re allowed to get more up close and personal. Some of that comes directly from Dallas’ replacement, since Rome likes to call the women in her audiences “Queens,” and talk about how they should be exalted. One of the Domina dancers, Andre (Donald Glover) performs a lap dance that doubles as an empowering rap to the subject of his dance. And in a refreshing show of body positivity (really), the women that the men engage with have a wide range of ages, sizes and ethnicities. Female pleasure is the focus of these men, and of the film.

With McConaughey out, as well as Alex Pettyfer’s Kid and Cody Horn as Mike’s love interest, the film refocuses on the remaining characters to provide arcs. These five guys each have their own charms, and the way they play with each other creates some genuinely fun moments throughout the film. Manganiello is the biggest surprise, and this may be the project that’s used him best in his entire career. Audiences have already likely seen some potent scenes of his from the trailer, but in the film they’re coupled with an ingenious song choice that makes the whole sequence a delight. Bomer, meanwhile, shows off his pipes (his vocal pipes, people) in a way that should have someone looking for a musical role for him. And of course, Tatum further cements himself as being in a league all his own.

Of the new cast members, Smith has the most screen time, and she makes the biggest impression. Through sheer presence, she’s crafted an incredibly sexy role for herself. It’s easy to see why Mike wants her to be their emcee; she not only is able to get the crowds riled up, but she’s more magnetic in the role than Dallas was in Magic Mike. Amber Heard also pops in as Zoe, a girl who bumps into Mike at various points in the film. Even though she has less scenes with Tatum than Cody Horn did in the previous film, the chemistry between the two is far more palpable. Whether it’s in another sequel or a different project, Tatum and Heard should work together again quickly. The biggest surprise, though, is a brief appearance by Andie McDowell as one of a group of older women the men encounter in Charleston. McDowell has always struck me as a bit wooden in her performances, so to see her let loose as a teasing divorcée, Southern drawl and all, was quite a surprise.

By taking the parts audiences liked most about its predecessor and smartly expanding on those ideas, Magic Mike XXL comes out as a surprisingly strong sequel. It certainly provides some of the most fun moments we’ll see this summer, and it knows how to give audiences exactly what they want.

Magic Mike XXL • Rating: R (for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use)Runtime: 115 minutesGenre: Comedy • Cast: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Donald Glover, Stephen “tWitch” Boss, Amber Heard, Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks, Jada Pinkett Smith • Director: Gregory Jacobs • Writer: Reid Carolin • Distributor: Warner Bros.
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