Editor’s Notes: Magic Mike XXL is currently out in wide theatrical release.
Was the first Magic Mike a painting and Magic Mike XXL a rough-hewn sketch? Or was the first film too tepidly self-serious and this sequel its no-frills, easygoing, party animal antithesis? I think all of those statements hold true in their own ways, yet the core energy of this franchise (since now we must refer to it as such) is somehow grander than all of them. Also, somehow, I am a fan of both films, and yet even as Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 original hovered just underneath my Top Ten for that year, Magic Mike XXL may actually be a more focused masterpiece of its own kind – which is to say, a nebulous, random piece of episodic performance art.
And in its contextless, willfully shallow, coastal bro-party cinematic paradigm, the result is unbridled glee.
There is no “story” to speak of in Magic Mike XXL, unless you want to use the following synopsis: “the tale of five guys on a road trip to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach and their encounters, experiences, and misadventures along the way.” That pretty much sums it up. “Conflict” isn’t a word in this film’s vocabulary. There are three primary tension points: 1) the guys get pissed when Mike (Channing Tatum) spends too much time on his phone, 2) Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) falls asleep at the wheel and gently drives the truck into a forest, and 3) Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganello) hasn’t had sex in months because he can’t find a woman who is able to take every inch of his…well, you know his name. The rest of the film is sunshine and lollipops, beer chugging and ecstacy hits, beach parties and elaborate strip presentations. And in its contextless, willfully shallow, coastal bro-party cinematic paradigm, the result is unbridled glee.
As a proponent of Soderbergh’s first film – which was a movie with an encased story and a closed resolution, and one that glimpsed a dangerous world with serious implications that the titular hero was striving to escape – I was damn near offended at the thought of a sequel. In my view, sequelizing a serious movie is not only cheap unto itself, but it also cheapens the legacy of the original. And the thing is, I was right – Magic Mike XXL fits that description precisely. But dammit, this cheap sequel is cheap summer bliss that doesn’t want to be anything else.
The experience of watching the film with a large crowd is like sitting in the audience for a cult classic, even though the film has just debuted.
Soderbergh is not the director this time around – that role is filled, ably, by Gregory Jacobs – but his services were retained as Editor, Cinematographer, and Executive Producer. What results is a film that feels entirely Soderbergh-ian almost in spite of itself, and also one that is seamlessly consistent with its predecessor in terms of the form, tone, and visual palette. It’s just that the content is an inclusive party rather than a cautionary tale. The experience of watching the film with a large crowd is like sitting in the audience for a cult classic, even though the film has just debuted – everyone knows the rhythms, people clap and holler at will, audible joke-cracking is welcomed, and when the Backstreet Boys song plays on the soundtrack, everyone sings along. The only way to make it better would be to display the lyrics on the screen with the bouncing ball.
The film is unquestionably episodic, drifting from one set piece to another, each one mirroring the structure of the rest. Step One: the screenplay contrives a reason for the guys to travel to a random exotic location, be it an underground club in Georgia emceed by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith, in here best role in years), who shares some history with Mike, or a lush Southern mansion where a sassy debutante (Andie MacDowell, fabulous as ever) and her cadre of desperate housewives have gathered for a wine party. Step Two: the guest stars add plenty of spice, the guys put on a show, and everyone yucks it up. It seems flat and redundant at first glance, but somehow the repetition allows us to further immerse in this fantasy world. As we inch deeper into Candyland, everything gets sweeter. And by the end we’re on a sugar rush, exiting the theater amiably intoxicated, ready to keep the party poppin.
It seems flat and redundant at first glance, but somehow the repetition allows us to further immerse in this fantasy world. As we inch deeper into Candyland, everything gets sweeter. And by the end we’re on a sugar rush, exiting the theater amiably intoxicated, ready to keep the party poppin.