In 2012, I came up with an idea to watch the first Magic Mike movie with a male stripper. This was an equally dumb and widely unoriginal idea, as that particular screening on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was filled with entertainment journalists sitting next to men wearing tank tops. (There was one particular male stripping company, HunkOMania, that seemed to have a monopoly on that particular night of “stunt writing,” so they all wore shirts to help advertise their place of business. It was smart.)
Funny thing about Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike: Despite the ad campaign, it wasn’t really all that much about stripping. So, there I was, sitting next to a man in a tank top named Vincent, watching a meditation on dirty business deals, drug addiction and relationships. So, in our post-screening interview, I found myself in a dank bar, asking poor Vincent all these dark questions about life. I’m surprised HunkOMania didn’t go out of business that night due to sadness.
I hope the experience of that evening doesn’t deter Vincent from seeing Magic Mike XXL, a movie that is probably a lot more realistic in its presentation of the life of a male stripper. At least I hope it is, because Magic Mike XXL makes it look like a whole lot more fun.
It’s hard to believe that Magic Mike XXL, directed by Gregory Jacobs (Soderbergh’s first assistant director on almost all his movies), even exists in the first place. Soderbergh has “retired” from directing movies, so he’s not involved with this one at all – well, other than being the cinematographer and editing the movie, which means he was on set every single day. (I hope you read that last sentence as sarcasm, because it was meant that way.)
Do you know how sequels sometimes have a problem coming up with a “plot” or “conflict” that rivals the first movie — especially movies that are of the non-action variety? Magic Mike XXL circumvents this problem by being a movie with the most bare-minimum plot possible and really no conflict to speak of. The biggest problem the boys have in the entire movie is that their RV hits a tree, which forces them to find a new means of transportation.
Oh, yes, “the boys.” Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas, Alex Pettfer’s Adam, and Cody Horn’s Brooke – combined, the main source of the first film’s actual drama – are long gone. This leaves Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Tito (Adam Rodriguez), who have formed what is some sort of magical male-stripping road show. They just drive around from club to club and do their thing. Mike Lane (aka “Magic Mike, aka Channing Tatum) is busy running a furniture store when he’s offered a chance to return to the group. After some hussing and fussing about “responsibilities” and a strip-tease set in his workshop, Mike is on the road, on the way to a stripping convention, and … that’s pretty much it.
Have you ever watched a movie and really enjoyed, say, the first 15 minutes or so — when it’s just likable characters interacting before the dumb plot kicks in? Then you spend the rest of the movie wondering why the whole movie couldn’t have been these great characters doing what they do, as opposed to some nonsense misunderstanding that we know will take an hour to resolve? Well, Magic Mike XXL is for you. The whole movie is basically these guys just hanging out. (I just reread that last sentences and, FINE, you can take that either way you want.)
Well, that and stripping, There’s A LOT of stripping. The last act of Magic Mike XXL is almost entirely made up of stripping. (Also, I hope you like Nine Inch Nails.)
Magic Mike XXL is basically the movie you thought the first movie would be. If, with the first Magic Mike, you were looking forward to a night out with your friends (or a male stripper named Vincent from HunkOMania), watching famous people strip for a couple hours, but came away disappointed … oh, boy, are you in for a treat. The first Magic Mike is an actual movie. Magic Mike XXL is a smorgasbord of titillation and it’s probably better off for being so. (There’s a scene that takes place in a convenience store that involves a Backstreet Boys song that will probably be the single best scene in a movie this summer … or, let’s face it, maybe ever. We can stop making movies now because we found “the best scene.”)
About halfway through Magic Mike XXL, Mike and the crew stop at a sort of stripping brothel, run by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith, continuing the Magic Mike tradition of people in power being named after cities), then they stay at a suburban mansion, owned by Nancy (Andie MacDowell). The movie almost fooled me into thinking that something of consequence would happen at either place, and I found myself dreading whatever it was going to be. But, nope, it’s just more scenes of characters being who they are, interacting with other characters. Magic Mike XXL is like Seinfeld, it’s a movie about nothing, and that’s what makes it great. Well, “nothing” other than lots and lots of male stripping.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.