Flex Thighs and Videotape: Magic Mike XXL

by |
07/01/2015 5:18 AM |
photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Magic Mike XXL
Directed by Gregory Jacobs
Opens July 1

Your favorite male strippers are back with the same chisel—but not quite the same sizzle. Magic Mike was one of 2012’s surprise hits, so a sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s unexpectedly incisive socioeconomic skin flick was inevitable. That film’s advertising campaign targeted the female gaze, luring in its audience with the promise of oiled-up abs, and delivered alongside them an existential exploration of the relationship between profession and identity as well as a commentary on business ethics. This time, the semi-retired Soderbergh is relegated to cinematographer and editor, and his longtime assistant director Gregory Jacobs takes the helm.

The unproven Jacobs delivers a very different film. Gone is the static look and cold feel of its predecessor: XXL is full of exuberant camera movement and is all about embracing the fun. Three years after Channing Tatum’s dissatisfied Mike left his friends and stripper life behind, the other guys are now ready to hang up the g-strings for good—but not before one last hurrah in the form of a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach.

It’s a classic road trip plot as the characters band together to go out with a bang, while dealing with the ensuing uncertainty of their futures. The collective charisma of the cast is infectious. These are clearly people who get along behind the camera, and the chemistry leaks off the screen like the sweat dripping off Tatum’s gyrating thighs. Of the handful of new players in XXL, Jada Pinkett-Smith is the highlight as Rome, a saucy MC who runs a club that grants women their fantasies and puts the boys in their place. Amber Heard is solid as Mike’s new love interest, but isn’t given much to do, and the rest of the additions feel like unnecessary bumps in the road.

There’s less beneath the surface in this sequel, but Tatum asserts himself as one of Hollywood’s most likeable leads, and fleetingly approaches Gene Kelly’s muscular artistry and inventiveness with his dance moves. Sequences are hit or miss, and often depend on the performers’ ability to transcend the shallow material. In its finer moments, Soderbergh’s distinct visual signature takes over this otherwise aesthetically unremarkable, but entertaining, summer diversion.