‘Magic Mike,” Steven Soderbergh’s modest, playfully liberated comedy about male strippers that took multiplexes by storm three years ago, possessed that ineffable concentration of qualities of which so many surprise sleeper hits are made. Alternately steamy and wholesome, raunchy and childlike, “Magic Mike” reveled in the glistening, undulating, six-pack musculature of the male body, focusing chiefly on that of its star, Channing Tatum. There was nothing pre-sold, focus-grouped or otherwise market-driven about it. The effect was twofold, making its sunnily optimistic portrayal of men inviting, and its basking in the female gaze all the more disarming.
There’s no way that a sequel could recapture that movie’s sense of dumb-bunny innocence. “Magic Mike XXL” is a more calculated, less spontaneous enterprise by definition, less a natural outgrowth than an evolutionary imperative, given the first film’s worldwide box office take of more than $160 million. But writer Reid Carolin and director Gregory Jacobs — Soderbergh’s longtime first assistant director, who takes over the helm here — do their best to infuse the follow-up with the same bracing joie de vivre and old-fashioned bump-and-grind salaciousness. “Magic Mike XXL” tries mightily — if unsuccessfully — to match its predecessor’s stature as a camp classic, the epitome of trashy summer fun for the whole pansexual, polymorphously perverse, omni-libidinous family.
“Magic Mike XXL” is organized as a joy ride, with Mike joining his old Florida dance troupe, the Kings of Tampa, to perform one last barnburner of a show at a strippers’ convention before they disband to pursue various straight businesses. Tito (Adam Rodriguez) wants to open an artisanal frozen-yogurt truck; Tarzan (Kevin Nash) plans to be an artist; and Ken (Matt Bomer), now a Reiki healer given to meditation and sage-burning rituals, will presumably continue on his well-chiseled path to enlightenment. The drama, such as it is, lies in whether the guys can find the courage to throw out their antiquated costumes and routines and find something fresh for the “lay-deeze” they dance for.
Goodbye, Village People. Hello, 50 Shades.
The plot is as mechanistically structured as a case study in “Screenwriting for Dummies.” It’s less a story inhabited by fully realized characters than a loose conglomeration of smoldering, make-it-rain set pieces interspersed with forced dialogue about inner drag queens and sexual healing.
Granted, as in the first installment, there are examples of extraordinary dancing in “Magic Mike XXL,” and Tatum once again proves his bona fides as an actor of fine comic instincts. Unfortunately, many of the film’s best moments have already been revealed in the trailers, including Mike’s “Footloose”-esque welding scene and a cute little twirl he does after introducing himself to a woman named Zoe (Amber Heard), who has a tendency to pop up in the most random of places. Joe Manganiello, who plays a character named Big Dick Richie, appears in what might be the film’s most memorable scene, in which his character creates a one-man show of manscaped, gyrating mayhem for the benefit of an impassive convenience store clerk.
On their way from Florida to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the annual strippers’ convention, the boys on the bus make all sorts of new friends, including Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), the proprietor of a lurid den of debauchery, and a room full of divorcees swilling wine and complaining about the men they’ve just left.
Andie MacDowell plays the most talkative and sexually adventurous of that bunch, and her delivery of the word “day-um” when she unzips Richie’s vest is one of the funniest moments in “Magic Mike XXL.” Pinkett Smith also slips effortlessly into her role as a strip-club emcee who’s part tummler — “Is anyone not on birth control? Because there’s gonna be some grown-up woman [stuff] up in here tonight” — and part sinuous, sloe-eyed guide to the nasty side.
The climactic sequences of “Magic Mike XXL” — staged after the de rigueur montage of frantic rehearsals and last-minute glitter-throwing — feel perfunctory and, in all honesty, pretty lame, especially when each of the Kings of Tampa comes out for his one or two minutes of take-it-all-off glory. The big number is an ingeniously choreographed mirror routine featuring Tatum and franchise newcomer Stephen Boss, each of whom invites a woman in the audience to play with gymnastic, up-close-and-way-too-personal moves usually reserved for hot-sheet motels or cheesy honeymoon suites.
Earlier, Michael Strahan, playing one of Rome’s stars, slathers himself in oil to deliver a full-body massage. Donald Glover, as a baby-faced performer named Andre, coos impromptu ballads to a woman awkwardly pretending she’s not mortified. Ken sweeps up a shy housewife into a swoony lap dance while singing “Heaven.” The often coarse but never cynical leitmotif of “Magic Mike XXL” is that Mike and his friends make it their life’s work to listen to women, cater to their wishes, embody their fantasies, banish their inadequacies and acknowledge them as queens, as Rome calls her customers — who pointedly come in all ages, races, shapes and generously proportioned sizes. As if he wasn’t endearing enough, Mike even refers to God as a “she.”
But for all of its exalting, sex-positive feminism, there are more than a few moments in “Magic Mike XXL” when the simulated mounting, thrusting, bumping and grinding look less like fun than the dutiful ministrations of scantily clad wage slaves, their female admirers concentrating, with similar determination, on keeping the dollars unfurling and their rictus-like smiles from flattening into bemusement or plain boredom. At the point when one lucky lady (sorry, “lay-dee”) is doused with copious squirts of chocolate sauce and whipped cream, it’s possible to wonder whether the filmmakers’ defense of female desire has slipped from devotion into patronizing caricature. “What do women want?” was a question that even confounded Freud. Despite its admirable intentions, “Magic Mike XXL” hasn’t got a clue, either.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong sexual content, pervasive profanity, some nudity and drug use. 115 minutes.