Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Movie Review: Magic Mike XXL

Magic Mike XXL
Directed by: Gregory Jacobs.
Written by:  Reid Carolin.
Starring: Channing Tatum (Mike), Joe Manganiello (Big Dick Richie), Kevin Nash (Tarzan), Gabriel Iglesias (Tobias), Matt Bomer (Ken), Adam Rodriguez (Tito), Amber Heard (Zoe), Stephen Boss (Malik), Jada Pinkett Smith (Rome), Michael Strahan (Augustus), Donald Glover (Andre), Andie MacDowell (Nancy Davidson), Elizabeth Banks (Paris).

Magic Mike XXL decides to do away with many things that the original film in 2012 had – mainly minor things like plot and character development. The original film was one of the last directed by Steven Soderberg, before one of the most active retirements I can imagine, and although it contained a lot of male stripping, it also had a plot, wasn’t afraid of getting dark at times, and had a genuinely great performance by Matthew McConaughey (at the beginning of his resurgence), and an interesting one by Channing Tatum. It had a love story – that was kind of dull involving Cody Horn, an attractive blonde – although the relationship between Tatum and Olivia Munn was better – and had some genuine insights to it. Magic Mike XXL isn’t interested in all of that. Directed by Gregory Jacobs – a long time assistant to Soderberg (who is back as cinematographer and editor, under his usual pseudonyms), and the film is basically an old school musical – with a bare bones plot that is used to string one stripping scene after another together – that make up the majority of the films runtime. Magic Mike XXL isn’t interested in anything really except those dance numbers – that can happen anytime, anywhere, and go on so long that you could argue that they continually drag the movie’s plot to a halt – that is if the film had one.

 All of this probably sounds like I didn’t much like Magic Mike XXL – but nothing could be further from the truth. While I’m certainly not one of the many critics who are putting this film on their top 10 list for 2015, the film really is goofy fun from beginning to end. The film opens on Mike (Tatum), who left stripping 3 years ago and has put all his energies into his furniture business, being called by his old friends, telling him that Dallas (the McConaughey character) is gone – so he shows up for what thinks is a wake. But that’s not true – Dallas has simply left the Kings of Tampa, taking the “Kid” (the Alex Pettyfor character) with him, and abandoning the rest (an educated guess is that McConaughey was too busy to do the sequel, and based on reports, no one liked Pettyfor, who wasn’t asked back). The Kings of Tampa want one last ride – they’re piling into a frozen yogurt van and heading for a “stripper convention” in Myrtle Beach for the weekend. Of course, Mike is up for that last ride.

From there, the guys hit the road, and the movie finds one excuse after another for them to break out into dance – not just in strip clubs, but wherever they happen to be at the time (the most amusing of which is probably at a gas station). The movie has another love story – Mike reveals that the blonde girl from the last movie rejected him, so he finds another blonde (Amber Heard) in this movie – who strangely keeps reappearing at random moments in the film, and is there for the big finale. The film has two large set pieces – which together comprise about half the films running time – the first in a private strip club run by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), where the Kings of Tampa simply sit back and admire the work being done by her strippers (played by Michael Strahan, Stephen “Twitch” Boss and Donald Glover – who doesn’t just dance, but also sings). The second is the big one that ends the movie – where the boys take the stage(s) at the convention, and do one huge number after another –all involving a lot of audience participation, that I don’t think would actually happen – but who the hell cares.

All of this is handled with a humorous attitude throughout. I think a lot of people thought the original Magic Mike was going to be just a male stripper movie, and were surprised to find a real film behind all that dancing. Having done that, the filmmakers here seem determined to just let it all hang loose, and just have a blast with the dancing. And have a blast they do – Tatum is a genuinely great dancer, and his routines are the best (Twitch is great to – although they don’t really let him speak). There is a lot of bro talk when the men aren’t stripping – but not aggressive, misogynistic bro talk, but some genuinely sweet stuff – recorded in a way that deliberately calls to mind Robert Altman`s infamous dialogue style, that had characters speak over each other. Jada Pinkett Smith is actually brilliant in the film – it`s a big, bold, brassy performance – one that probably comes close to vocalizing the films theme (if there is one), about female sexual empowerment. Matthew McConaughey came close to an Oscar nomination for his performance as the Emcee in the original film, and dammit, Pinkett Smith should at least be in the conversation this year.

Magic Mike XXL isn’t a great film – I do wish that the filmmakers had put a little bit more thought into the film. But it is loose, goofy fun that is precisely the film it wants to be – and one that is well made, and contains some genuinely great dance numbers – and perhaps the sexiest dry humping in film history.

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