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.