‘Magic Mike XXL’ isn’t magical enough without Soderbergh

Magic Mike was a revelation back in 2012.  It proved that Channing Tatum could give a convincing dramatic turn with a good director (like Foxcatcher) and was another stepping stone in the McConaissance phenomenon. The veneer of hunk flesh and sexual energy was the gateway to a world of corrupt economics and 21st century loneliness. That film was just as much about the pitfalls of capitalism as it was about the art of male stripping. And it was all thanks to director Steven Soderbergh. This sequel foregoes meaty subtext for a ton of fat and gravy. It’s entertaining but just not the same.

To be fair, Magic Mike XXL manages to continue some of the themes of the first film in an organic way. When Matthew McConaughey (Dallas) and Alex Pettyfer (The Kid) declined to be in the sequel, it provided the producers with an interesting narrative opportunity. What if they broke up the Kings of Tampa? What if all of them, not just Mike, had to deal with a life after stripping? We continue to see, whether on the dancers’ faces or others, the stigma of being a male entertainer. The film basically gives us the male entertainer version of a mid-life crisis.

With the exceptions of Tarzan (Kevin Nash), who’s still relegated to comic punching bag, and Andre, whose only purpose for existence is to promote Donald Glover’s music career, each one of them actually had heartbreaking struggles. Former minor characters Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) finally get the chance to shine. Free from the tyranny of Dallas, the group’s natural chemistry and sense of brotherhood permeates this picture with ease. Sadly, the same cannot be said of its female lead. While Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks steal the screen with their antics, Amber Heard’s Zoe just feels like a re-hash of Cody Horn’s character from the first film. Still, the cast is pretty fun to watch.

Compared to its predecessor, the direction feels uneven. Magic Mike was captivating in both its sexual dancing and personal drama. This film, however, is a roller coaster of hilarious highs and forced dramatic lows. It could be due to its nature as a road trip film or the fault of new director Gregory Jacobs. Maybe both.

All in all, the film is lacking meaty layers of subtext thanks to Matthew McConaughey’s turn as Dallas and Soderbergh’s superb direction. To make up for that, it goes all out on hilarious beefcake display. It’s fun to watch but it’s just not as magical.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Kim Antonio

Passionate geek. Sometimes referred to as All-Moderator or Galactus. Has the latter's appetite too.

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