The original Magic Mike was a phenomenon. Made independently with $7 million dollars of director Steven Soderbergh and star Channing Tatum’s money, the film grossed more than $160 million worldwide, but not without angering a great many people. From the beginning, Magic Mike was pitched as an all-male romp, based on Tatum’s experience as a teenage stripper in Florida. The film was marketed ingeniously, relying on the abs and asses of guys with names like Tatum, McConaughey, Pettyfer, and Bomer. The marketing objective was simple: get women in the seats opening weekend. And it worked, like wildfire. Theaters sold out, millions were made, and many were pissed.
And now, three years later, we’re presented with the sequel, Magic Mike XXL. To say the sequel is unnecessary is a fruitless argument. Rarely are sequels necessary. The point is that the film exists, and it’s worth paying attention to. For one, I’ll be very curious to see how XXL performs, given that the targeted demographic of the first film (women of all ages) now know what to expect. XXL is 20 minutes longer than its predecessor and cost double the amount to make (which is still damn cheap in today’s market), so will audiences turn out for it? More importantly, should they?
XXL begins by showing the reformed and successful Mike that Mike was trying so hard to be in the first film. He’s still with Brooke, the gal he gave up stripping for at the conclusion of Magic Mike (though she isn’t seen in the sequel, for reasons that are explained), and his furniture business is killing it. But soon enough, Mike is lured back into the life, for a final hoo-rah performance in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Most of the gang return, except Adam (Alex Pettyfer) and Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who is sorely missed. (In the film, Adam and Dallas have taken their show overseas. In real life, the financiers couldn’t afford McConaughey and his Oscar.)
Much of XXL plays as a road movie, with the boys traveling from Florida to Myrtle in a cramped food truck. Being in such a tight environment, we get to know the supporting players better than we did before, the result of which is dividing.
The first film worked so well because it was essentially a character study about two guys longing for purpose. We didn’t get to know the supporting characters in Magic Mike, but that didn’t really matter. It was Mike and Adam’s film. XXL, in contrast, is everyone’s film, which causes the movie to occasionally falter. I couldn’t care less, for example, about Tito’s (Adam Rodriguez) desire to make healthy yogurt, but we’re forced to listen to him talk about it constantly.
But those story flaws are minor, because for the most part, I enjoyed getting to know the boys better. The real fault of the film is that it lacks something – style, punch, verve. Which could be credited to the absence of Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh isn’t fully gone though. As with the first film, Soderbergh shot and edited XXL himself, but directing duties for the sequel fall on Gregory Jacobs, who has been the first assistant director on nearly every film Soderbergh has made. But save the final, jaw-dropping closing dance number (an extended crane shot involving a sex swing is particularly spirited), there’s nothing worth mentioning about Soderbergh’s contribution to the sequel. Soderbergh is one of my favorite cinematographers, his command of the craft is continually inspiring. But XXL is the only film Soderbergh has shot and/or edited that he did not direct, and that sense of detachment (perhaps too strong a word) is evident.
But look, while Magic Mike XXL may not be as accomplished as the first film, it does have a lot going for it. There are some fun cameos packed in to keep things fresh, and a priceless set piece in which the guys roll hard on Molly. And then there’s that final number, a dance sequence of such skill, precision and control, that you can’t help but be wowed by it. Tatum’s final performance in the film is not only the best dance scene from either Magic Mike (by far), it’s genuinely one of the best dance sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie. If faults exist in XXL, that final number all but makes them vanish. B
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