Not only does Magic Mike XXL have more male dancing, bulging biceps, oily washboard abs, and G-string than you can imagine, it also hasn’t lost sight of what made Magic Mike (2012) successful. At its core it was about Mike (Channing Tatum) striving to break free from the pleasurable but unfulfilling monotony of male exotic dancing.
Three years after the events of Magic Mike, Mike runs his own furniture-designing business. When his old stripper friends pass through Tampa, he meets up with them at a hotel, at which point a naked Richie (Joe Manganiello) throws him into the pool. Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) are also there and tell him they’re on their way to Myrtle Beach, for the annual stripper convention. That night in his wood shop, Mike starts dancing when Ginuwine’s “Ride My Pony” plays on the radio, going so far as to suggestively drill holes in his table. The next day, Mike leaves everything behind and goes with the boys to Dirty Myrtle.
Once the guys leave Tampa, director Gregory Jacobs’ film tackles all the typical road trip clichés — hookups, drugs, drinking, destroyed vehicles, inspirational chats, Mike meets a girl (Amber Heard) who seems like a kindred spirit. It’s standard stuff, but the bro-ness of it all makes it enjoyable. Then an odd thing happens. They get to Rome’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) house in Savannah on the way to Myrtle, and the film comes to a halt. Rome’s an old flame of Mike’s, and now runs a “subscription service” in which ladies come on a monthly basis and get all the entertainment they desire. And for roughly 15 minutes, we just enjoy the show. It’s an odd thing for the story to completely stop while the action revs up 900 degrees, but such are the flaws and charms of this flawed, charming movie.
That’s right — it’s charming. Magic Mike XXL made me smile. Even though it’s never really clear why the convention is so important, let alone why Mike decides to tag along, there’s heart here that goes beyond dancing and gyrating. When it comes down to it, the real role of the male adult entertainer/stripper is to make women of all shapes and sizes and walks of life feel good. This is best exemplified in a scene in which the men happen upon a group of five older ladies (one of whom is played by Andie MacDowell) enjoying an evening of wine. They talk about relationships, sex, secret yearnings, and more, and you realize these men are capable of making women feel good in more than one way. Now that’s sexy.
This isn’t to say the dancing isn’t darn entertaining. It is. Tatum’s movements and agility are second to none, but Manganiello has the two best sequences, one of which occurs inside a convenience store. And Stephen Boss, who plays one of Rome’s dancers, has tremendous body control and style. What’s most interesting about the dance sequences is that the women don’t necessarily look turned on by having six-pack abs and grinding groins in their faces, but they are smiling, laughing, and having a great time. It makes me think a male strip club would be a lot of fun, whereas a female strip club is downright depressing.
To the macho straight guys who will be dragged to Magic Mike XXL against your will, it’s OK to like it. You’re allowed to be entertained by something without finding it arousing. Heck, most of what you’re entertained by (Furious 7) isn’t arousing, so why use that criteria here? And if you can’t bring yourself to laugh when Joe Manganiello has a woman in a sex swing and is dancing on her to Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer,” you’re just missing out.