Magic Mike XXL – Movie Review


Magic Mike XXL – Reviewed by David Turpin

Directed by Gregory Jacobs

Starring: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Jada Pinkett Smith, Amber Heard

The ubiquitous trailers for Magic Mike XXL salaciously invite viewers to “Get back to the grind”. They aren’t kidding. A turgid road movie trundling slowly to a damp squib of a “let’s put on a show” finale, Magic Mike XXL is a grind, all right, but not in the way anybody was promised.

Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 original was no classic, but it created an interesting triangle between Channing Tatum’s eponymous “male entertainer”, reptilian Svengali Matthew McConaughey, and noxious ingénue Alex Pettyfer. Of that trio, only Tatum returns, voiding the sequel of the original’s sly, if slight, comment on relative ideas of youth and maturity. Instead, the subtext-free wisp of plot involves Tatum and his posse of Floridian stripper friends (Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, etc) travelling cross country from Florida to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to perform at an annual convention. En route, their sketchy relationships are mildly tested, and each man gets to unspool some drably on-the-nose backstory courtesy of returning screenwriter Reid Carolin.

The looseness of Magic Mike XXL’s structure should, in theory, give it more space to reveal character and context, but Mike and his buddies prove poor company for the viewer. Alternately sullen and raucous, the gents converse in endless expletive-strewn semi-improvisation of the type that only a razor sharp ensemble can carry off. This constellation of dim bulbs singularly fails to light up.

Soderbergh himself shoots and edits, and the cinematography at least has his usual burnished glow. The many dance sequences, however, are flatly filmed – often with a static camera that lays bare (no pun intended) the sameness of the choreography. Any aficionado of Bob Fosse will know that finely tuned dance sequences can be exhilaratingly captured in static shots, but the 90s-MTV calibre performances here are a far cry from Fosse’s wit, invention, and eroticism.

While Soderbergh can usually be relied upon to conjure a sense of place, the road trip structure of the sequel – and former cinematographer Gregory Jacobs’ workmanlike direction – put paid to that. With swaying vines and a single antebellum mansion straight out of a clip art library, Magic Mike XXL’s evocation of Savannah, Georgia, makes Clint Eastwood’s trite Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) seem like a model of atmosphere. Meanwhile, the sole new cast member given appreciable screen-time –Jada Pinkett Smith – plays a scenery chewing Savannah MC who made this viewer yearn for The Lady Chablis to stride in and puncture Tatum’s bubble.

Pinkett Smith at least fares better than Amber Heard, who wafts in and out as a kind-of-sort-of love interest for Tatum. She’s required only to look depressed and hint coquettishly at bisexuality, so that both conditions can implicitly be “cured” by an (anti-) climactic lap dance from our hero.

The fact that Magic Mike XXL has nothing interesting, or even amusing, to say on the topic of human sexuality probably wouldn’t matter so much if the film didn’t keep insisting that it did. Time and again the paltry action slows down for the male characters to deliver pompous speeches to swooning women, in which they expound on the virtues of stripping as a way of worshipping the female spectator. One might hope that some of the female cast – including Elizabeth Banks and Andie McDowell – would have something to say on that subject, if their self-aggrandising “worshippers” ever let them get a word in.

Magic Mike XXL – whose entire creative crew is male – offers a hopelessly transparent impersonation of feminine fantasy concerned exclusively with flattering fragile male egos – particularly that of Tatum. One might read the film as its producer-star’s response to a string of disastrous action hero roles, including “White House Down” (2013) and “Jupiter Ascending” (2015), as well as a non-starter of an Oscar bid in last year’s quickly forgotten “Foxcatcher”. Like Mike himself, Tatum is revisiting the well of past successes – not just the original Magic Mike, but also the teen dance movie “Step Up” (2006) with which he made his name, and the hare brained wish- fulfilment fantasy “The Vow” (2012). The well is dry – although both actor and character seem determined to coast by on a presumed charm that never reveals itself onscreen. “You’re Welcome” brags the poster tagline, to which the best response is probably “Thanks, but no thanks”.


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