Newbie-male-dancer-gone-bad tale Magic Mike (2012) was a bit coy and moralistic; sequel Magic Mike XXL is anything but(t). Far less dark or subtle—plenty of pelvic thrusts in faces; more thongs and codpieces than at a seaside restaurant; lots of talk of treating women like queens—but far more boisterous, raunchy and exuberant, this is a movie that neon-lights the “entertainment” in “male entertainment,” even if it isn’t much more than one last road-trip down memory lane.
Rapidly reuniting the stripped-tees-and-tease gang—Mike (Channing Tatum) rejoins Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Ken (Matt Bomer), and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) as they travel to a strippers’ convention in Myrtle Beach for one last tear-off-the-pants—the movie shruggingly dispenses with its predecessor’s two best characters, Brooke (Cody Horn) and Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), right from the starting pole-position.
There’s some strutting fun, more burlesque and role-play than stripping: a visit to a drag-queen club where the boys flame it up; Richie grinding it hard to put a smile on a convenience-store clerk’s face; a high-class, suavely personalized strip-club for black women in Savannah.
A talk with older Southern belles comes off as a third-rate Vagina Monologues mixed up with a lame sex-advice column, though. Mike’s interest in photographer Zoe (Amber Heard) never sizzles much (their conversations don’t quite have the ragged, lifelike crackle of his and Brooke’s scenes). And for all the riotous energy of the thong-and-dance routines amid hordes of laughing, whooping, money-shucking women, the movie can take Mike and his magic-stripshow a little too romantically and slickly at times: a few too many close-ups tell us he’s the hero-with-the-pecs of this pic; the slow-tracking reveal of a luxury convertible is bling-bling fetishizing at its worst.
At its best, the lighthearted knowing-ness of what’s on show in Magic Mike XXL, with everyone up for some gyrating good times, makes for song-and-dance that fizzes with the exhilaration of a smartly self-aware pop-song. All this big-screen glorying and revelling in sexual energy and performance for the sheer, sin-less fun of it. That’s no small thing for a movie in a country, and an industry, that can be prudish, puerile or sniggeringly exploitative about the act.