Magic Mike XXL / Gregory Jacobs (2015; Warner Bros.)
Essential Potential: Steven Soderbergh shoots and edits, but doesn’t direct, a sequel to one of his most popular films.
2012's Magic Mike got a lot of folks into the theater on the promise of a fun romp about male strippers, then, along with all that hunky flesh, also served them a post-2008 financial collapse story about the breakdown of personal relationships reduced to economic exchanges. It eventually turned into a scold about drug abuse and the shady life of a sex worker, but people didn’t seem to mind too much (maybe they’d come to expect a hangover from all that partying). If that first film was the recession, then Magic Mike XXL is the recovery boom. Channing Tatum’s Mike now manages a successful furniture business, but the irresistible pull of the pole causes him to join up with his old buddies, the self-styled Kings of Tampa, for one last blast, and they all head to Myrtle Beach for a massive stripper convention. Where before Mike’s relationships were largely transactional, here they’re very simply, almost guilelessly emotional. The bond among our main group of guys is sincere and fraternal; they’re contstantly telling each other how much they value one another, and the environment they create for themselves is supportive of their individual talents and ambitions.
What’s more, their performances are brimming with the genuine pleasure they seem to take in making their audience feel accepted and respected. It’s all very healthy and fun. And Soderbergh (acting as editor and cinematographer for his longtime producer Gregory Jacobs) deploys his now-patented razor sharp framing and monochromatic color palette for simple expediency. It’s a light touch, but with enough idisyncrasy that you can tell he’s happy just keeping himself amused, like in a lengthy series of sequences taking place at a private mansion-wide party, bathed in blacks and blues, with bright whites popping out to highlight tiny details and throw huge shadows everywhere. It may not literally be a Soderbergh film, but it feels like one — a road comedy that resembles nothing so much as one of the filmmaker’s Oceans capers. By-design, Magic Mike XXL is a series of episodes and mishaps without much dramatic tension, overcome by sheer star charisma. Uh-oh, we crashed the van! No problem, Tay-tay knows a guy in Charleston. There’s no space for us at the convention! Don’t worry, somebody used to date the Emcee. Numerous plot developments hint tantalizingly at the hidden stripper community we barely glimpse the surface of, much like the Oceans criminal underworld or John Wick’s society of hitmen, just one more indicator that these guys are very expressly not trapped in some unfeeling capitalist system. Happy days are here again.