I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people how much I loved Magic Mike, only to have them look at me like I just revealed a secret pee fetish. “What, like, the male stripper movie?” they ask, with a look that says, “How worried should I be to let you around my kids?”
“It’s not just about the male stripping!” I’ll say. I came for the hip-thrusting, sure, never expecting that Magic Mike would also be a coming-of-age tale set in the twilight of the American Dream, an insightful depiction of male group dynamics, and an earnest exploration of how much what you do for a living comes to define who you are. I was baited with banana hammocks, but left feeling like I’d just seen a great movie. A film, even.
By contrast, Magic Mike XXL is the movie people must have been picturing when I told them I loved Magic Mike. I walked out of Magic Mike XXL feeling like I’d just left a male strip club. This installment is much more like Bring It On with pelvic thrusts than a Steven Soderbergh movie, and is more or less what I expected to see the first time around — gratuitous shots of bronzer-slathered meat slabs and soft-focus C-Tates charming all the ladaaays. Magic Mike XXL may lack the art of the original, but it compensates with a greased-up stud licking melted chocolate off an obese woman’s inner thighs and spraying her face and chest with a crotch-mounted whipped cream gun while she squeals (The Aristocrats!). It’s a trade off, sure, but not a terrible one.
Whereas Magic Mike had character arcs, conflict, themes, a plot-driven story… it’s probably best to think of Magic Mike XXL as a Magic Mike-themed video game. At the beginning, Magic Mike, now a low-level custom furniture tycoon struggling to afford his one employee’s health insurance, joins his old buddies for a road trip from Tampa to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for their last hurrah at the annual male stripper convention (which is totally a thing that exists, do not fact-check this) — all so that Mike can “go out in a tsunami of singles.” It’s best to imagine this part as the between-rounds banter from Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, with each character’s motivation spelled out beneath their 8-bit caricature, with beep boop sounds as they talk.
So the gang piles into their converted frozen-yogurt food truck (with “FroYo Body” painted on the side), and there might as well have been one of those map graphics from Street Fighter. They face a series of obstacles along the way, sad ladies who promise “you shall not pass!” until someone in the gang steps up to face-hump her into docile bliss. Up down up down right left right left B A select start. (That’s the cheat code for unlimited whipped-cream crotch guns).
One of the Bosses, if you will, is a clerk at gas station. “She looks like she’s never smiled in her life,” says C-Tates, the poor girl. Meanwhile, Big Dick Ritchie has lost his mojo, a plot point delivered basically the way The Chief might look into the camera and say “Gang, Big Dick Ritchie has lost his mojo,” in Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. Big Dick Ritchie’s mission is to make the gas-station lady smile and get his mojo back so the gang can get back on the road! A hilarious Quik E Mart strip scene follows, with Joe Mangienello drenching himself with water bottles and doing vulgar things with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The scene may not quite match “stick it” or “Ladies Of Tampa,” but it’s a worthy successor.
There are a few other levels they have to pass before they’re through, which may as well have been labeled “Black Panthers” (a private strip house for well-to-do black ladies where the boss is Jada Pinkett Smith) and “Cougar Den” (a mansion in Charleston where white ladies drink expensive wine and the boss is horny divorceé Andie McDowell). In a molly-fueled moment of revelation, Magic Mike tells the gang that the old “sexy fireman/sexy policeman” male-stripper conventions are passé. “Tarzan, you’re not a fireman. What do you really want?” “I like art,” he says.
Essentially, this is C-Tates introducing each character’s “special move,” based on that character’s personality. Matt Bomer likes to sing, Tarzan is an artist, the afro guy (Adam Rodriguez) is an aspiring FroYo tycoon, Donald Glover (who they picked up from Jada’s brothel) loves to freestyle, and Big Dick Ritchie (Joe Mangienello, aka Joey Minge) secretly wants to settle down and become a family man. Now, imagine how each of those things could possibly be incorporated into an elaborate male strip show. Multiply the ridiculousness of that mental image by 10, and you basically have each character’s special move.
If so far it all sounds like a wonderfully good time, it is, mostly, though it would’ve been much more so with some editing. Matthew McConaughey and Steven Soderbergh didn’t return for Magic Mike XXL, which is sort of like the Bulls losing Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. Wisely, director Gregory Jacobs doesn’t attempt to run the same offense.
When Magic Mike was concerned with male stripping at all, it was with the reality of male stripping — repairing your thong on the sewing machine, pumping up your dick backstage. Stripping was just the backdrop for a story about young people trying to find their niche. Magic Mike XXL is all about the show, what the strip-club audience sees. This time around, any talk is employed mostly to construct thin justifications for more dong-shakin.’ Which is fine. Problem is, vestigial elements of the original stick out like unwaxed chest hairs in the sequel. I don’t want to hear Matt Bomer whine about his financial struggles, because Magic Mike XXL isn’t about struggling. It’s about chocolate parties and molly.
And one thing Magic Mike XXL definitely doesn’t need is another serious-gal love interest. Amber Heard is styled so much like Cody Horn in the original that it almost qualifies as cosplay. Acting-wise, Heard’s probably an upgrade. But the Magic Mike arcade game truly did not need C-Tates to fall in love with an artsy chick who dreams of moving to the Big Apple to study photography. That has nothing to do with him getting to Myrtle Beach for the big strip show! (By the way, the over-long establishing shot of “The Myrtle Beach Convention Center” sign might have been the funniest shot of the film).
Still, it was great when he dry-humped her face onstage in a thong, and finally got her to squeal, because all chicks love a public face humping. Or so this film would have me believe.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.