I’m an unabashed supporter of Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper drama Magic Mike (2012), something I find people who haven’t seen the film are surprised about. Sight unseen, it’s easily dismissed as little more than, well, a movie about male strippers. But it’s kind of the lite version of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), being a deep film about seemingly shallow people while managing to be endlessly entertaining. This is also a fault of the film, since Magic Mike gets bogged down in a lot of needless moralizing about drugs and greed, something that’s part of Boogie Nights but seems to take over Magic Mike.
Its sequel, Magic Mike XXL, seems to understand the problems with the first film, and opts for an approach that’s little more than feel-good entertainment. And while this might sound like a miscalculation (the strategy does, after all, offer up its own set of problems), it makes for a genuinely likable, pleasant movie-going experience — one that happens to be about male strippers. But it’s also just a bit more than that, since the characters themselves — mainly the titular Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) and his crew of male entertainers — are fully drawn with an innate and even casual depth. It helps that this isn’t simply some cash grab, as the film is written by Magic Mike scribe Reid Carolin and directed by Soderbergh’s long-time first assistant director Gregory Jacobs (making for, at least, an approximation of Soderbergh’s style — helped no doubt by Soderbergh photographing and editing the film). There’s continuity and an amount of care here that helps the film.
But like I said, XXL’s concern, above all, is entertainment. There’s little dramatic tension here and nothing especially bad happens, just a movie about a group of friends on the road watching out for each other. In the middle of all the overt destruction and car chases and rude CGI teddy bears and dinosaurs that make up the bulk of summer moviegoing, there’s something refreshing in how simple and human XXL can be. Not to mention how breezily inclusive the film can be — both in terms of ethnicities and genders (there’s a heavy tinge of female empowerment below all the beefcake).
There’s little here in terms of plot, with XXL picking up three years after Magic Mike, with Mike now out of the world of male entertainment and focused on his custom furniture job. But finding himself single and alone, he finds his old group of dancers and heads out on the road to Myrtle Beach for one last hurrah. There are a few detours, through Savannah to a sort of pleasure palace run by Rome (a surprisingly good Jada Pinkett Smith) and through the home of some old-money Charlestonians (leading to a nice role for Asheville’s Andie MacDowell), but nothing too drastic. This hurts the climax, because there’s nowhere really to go besides a montage and a big (and a bit overlong) performance piece, but — like the first film’s ending — I’m not sure where else the movie can go. However, the entertainment value lies more in the journey, with a clever script and a likable cast that can carry it, not to mention some impressive dance numbers. Yes, it’s disposable, but since I consider that a movie’s first priority is to entertain, Magic Mike XXL passes on that criterion alone. Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use.