When Magic Mike was released in 2012, it took a lot of us by surprise -- and not just because it became a massive sleeper hit, grossing $170 million against a $7M budget. It surprised us because it was advertised as a big naked stripper party but ended up being secretly really good. It was a '70s-style character piece about What Happens When the Party Stops, directed with real intelligence and beauty by Steven Soderbergh and launching Channing Tatum (on whose life the movie was loosely based) to superstar status. It was one of my favorites of that year.
It's also the kind of movie that absolutely does not require a sequel, but because it made so much money we shouldn't have been shocked at all when Warner Bros. announced Magic Mike XXL, which would continue the adventures of Mike (Tatum) and his stripper friends. Because Steven Soderbergh is in self-imposed "retirement," he has not returned to direct. This had me concerned about the prospects for the sequel, as it was really Soderbergh who was responsible for shaping the original film into something unexpectedly deep and sad while still being insanely entertaining. Directing duties for XXL fall to Gregory Jacobs, Soderbergh's former AD and director of Criminal (2004) and Wind Chill (2007), two movies that were good without quite being great. Soderbergh is still on hand as the cinematographer (as Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard), so the film still looks and feels a lot like a Soderbergh movie. Nothing wrong with that.
Magic Mike XXL is surprising in many of the same ways that its predecessor managed to be; whereas the first movie had no right being as good as it was, XXL is a sequel that has no business existing in the first place but which manages to be a lot of fun. It loses all of the darkness and grittiness of the first movie and, in doing so, much of its depth and resonance. It replaces it with sweetness and tons of charm. Magic Mike looked at the grim realities of being a "male entertainer" and looked down on it -- it's a means to an end, a life from which the wise ones escape. In Magic Mike XXL, it's something to be proud of. These characters just want to bring happiness to people and show them a good time. They are spreading joy, one dance at a time.
My favorite dance in the movie comes from Joe Manganiello, who existed mostly in the fringes of the first film but here steals the show; he's really funny and has my favorite arc of the film, so devoted to making others feel special that he designs a strip tease modeled after a wedding day. As a way of helping him build confidence (if the handsome, chiseled, tall and, we're told in the movie, incredibly well-endowed Manganiello lacks confidence the rest of us should go ahead and drink all of the bleach) and make him understand his talents, the boys dare Richie to go into a convenience store and make the bored cashier smile. That's it. Manganiello's dance to "I Want It That Way" is a thing of beauty, charming and funny and I'm sure sexy to many (especially anyone who likes Cheetos). The sequence, like Manganiello's performance and really the entirety of Magic Mike XXL doesn't take itself too seriously. It just wants to make us smile. That's it.
|Yes, Steven Soderbergh, we saw Ocean's Eleven too|
There are cameos galore as the boys encounter faces both new and familiar on their road trip, a few of which inspired eye rolling from myself and at least one of the friends with whom I saw the movie (who, to be fair, spent the rest of the film fanning herself and uttering things like "Mama like." This is the best possible way to see Magic Mike XXL). Jada Pinkett Smith shows up as the owner of some weird brothel/mansion/strip club -- I remain plagued by trying to figure out what this place is -- who has history with Mike. Donald Glover is a dancer who freestyle raps. Michael Strahan does a dance. Andie McDowell plays a drunken Southern divorcee whose party takes a turn for the better with the arrival of the Kings of Miami. Elizabeth Banks works at the stripper convention. Amber Heard plays a photographer named Zoe (because of COURSE her name is Zoe) who flirts with Mike but appears to have little patience for his stripper lifestyle. This is the weakest stuff in the movie, as it is nothing more than a retread of his scenes with Cody Horn in the first movie minus any of the charm or romantic tension. Brooke represented another life for Mike; Zoe represents another clichéd cinematic depiction of the "artist" girl.
Beach Party movie updated for 2015. For all its lack of any conflict or antagonist, the movie still managed to stick with me after the fact probably because of its endless positivity. In a summer movie climate in which we've spent the last few years watching cities leveled and thousands (if not millions) presumably die, here's a movie that just wants to put on a show for us and give us a good time. If that means getting our faces humped to Ginuwine's "Pony," well...there are worse ways to spend two hours.