Magic Mike XXL
If you come to Magic Mike XXL not having seen the original Magic Mike, don’t worry. Within a few minutes Reid Carolin’s script sets up the situation. Three years later, Mike (Channing Tatum) isn’t working as a stripper. Mike is single and owns his own small furniture business, and in a nod to authenticity Carolin includes a scene in which Mike apologizes to his one employee for not being able to provide health insurance. After Mike’s fellow strippers — the former “Kings of Tampa” — turn up there’s a brief scene that explains why Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas isn’t in the movie. Then, we’re off.
Magic Mike XXL, directed by Gregory Jacobs, is a sequel that no one ever thought would exist. While the obvious choice might have been to gin up the melodrama and create lame conflict, Carolin goes the other way. XXL is plotless and baggy to such a degree that Robert Altman might have been interested in making it, but it’s also great fun and a gentle scoping out of American masculinity in 2015. Mike impulsively joins his old colleagues to travel from Florida to Myrtle Beach for a “last ride” at a Stripper Convention. The movie we’re watching is their journey, a chance for each man to contemplate unrealized dreams and a new chapter in their lives. Tarzan (Kevin Nash) is an artist, while Tito (Adam Rodriguez) wants to start a frozen yogurt business. Ken (a scene stealing Matt Bomer) is trying to resurrect his acting career, and Richie (Joe Manganiello) is looking for love. Jacobs stages a series of bro moments as the men roll across the South in Tito’s food truck, and after a while I realized I was watching a movie about Where American Men Are At. The Kings of Tampa are performing a fantasy of masculinity while going through desperate uncertainty in their real lives, and the result is surprisingly winning. When Richie does his routine for a convenience store clerk in order to win a smile I braced for condescension, but the scene is sweet and funny and just as awkward as Mike’s attraction to a lost soul (Amber Heard) he meets along the road.
Magic Mike XXL is also a movie about people at work, and the “let’s put on a show” story leads to the Kings’ final performance at the Stripper Convention. (The sign outside the venue says “Stripper Convention”.) Jada Pinkett Smith plays an old love of Mike’s named Rome, and there’s a long interlude when the guys stop at the high-end pleasure palace Rome runs in Savannah. Mike needs Rome to serve as M.C. for the Kings’ performance, but while we’re waiting for Rome decide we watch her affirm the beauty of the “queens” (the women) who patronize her club through Oprah-like exhortations and the help of a positive rapper played by Donald Glover. Mike and the Kings also spend a great deal of time boosting each other’s self-esteem and that of the people they meet, including a Charleston divorcee (Andie MacDowell) and her houseful of boozy women. Indeed the Kings’ final performance is a giant act of affirmation, as the hundreds of women in attendance — a few get very special attention — are driven to a frenzy by the men whose routines amount to more burlesque than overt sexuality. The end of Magic Mike XXL owes something to Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11, we’re moved by the fact the men have reached the height of their craft — by rejecting clichéd routines for new material — at the end of their careers. Magic Mike XXL isn’t the most inventive movie of this summer, that honor goes to Inside Out, but it considers the American soul like no movie I’ve seen in a very long time.