Review: 'Magic Mike XXL' Starring Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, and Matt Bomer

When stripping down 2012's MagicMike, the Soderbergh-ness of it is really what stands out...at least for those who weren't just there to see glistening male gods flex their ab muscles. It was in every sense a Steven Soderbergh film, and not completely unlike his prior effort The Girlfriend Experience, in that it explored the hopes, dreams, and troubles of people in a generally-maligned sex industry. That there were larger concerns, such as the failing economy, gave the film an unexpected richness. Truth be told, the serious stuff didn't totally jibe with the frat boy pack mentality of the characters, and it always seemed like there was a lighter film peeking through around the edges. Magic Mike XXL is that movie; it shunts aside most of the heavy concerns about the future in favor of an in-the-moment quest for fun, sex, money, and fame.

And yes, there are plenty of peaking pecs and gyrating hips for those who are looking for it, and actually in this case these scenes are far more indulgent. They are rarer but definitely longer, beginning with star Channing Tatum's woodshed pop 'n lock performance to Ginuwine's "Pony" that's sure to set off sparks (literally). Tatum, who has based the film and the title character on his personal experiences, doesn't look or move like he's aged a day in years, and he's especially energetic in this role. Just as Mike is feeling drawn back to the glory of his dancing career, Tatum also seems energized by recalling these old memories. Magic Mike XXL is essentially a road trip movie, in which Mike is convinced by his retiring buddies to go on one final bash down in Myrtle Beach, a hedonistic journey in which they can go out in a blaze of glory.

That's not to say Mike's past is completely punted to the side, at least not at first. It's been three years, and Mike has done exactly what he had set out to do in the first film. The problem is that his design business isn't exactly panning out, and the relationship he had with his girlfriend didn't work out. So when the merry band of hunks come calling, Mike is eager to go back to something he knows he's good at it; namely hoovering in $1 bills from steamed up women. And who better to make a comeback with than his fellow Kings of Tampa, who are coasting without the guidance of their mentor Dallas (Matthew McConaughey's character from the first film), who has left them high and dry.

So this movie is less about Mike; his motivations for joining them are skimmed over breezily; and just as much about his pals:  "Big Dick" Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (ex-pro wrestler Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) and Zen philosopher Ken (Matt Bomer).  Crammed inside of a makeshift food truck (seriously), oddly perfect for this much beefcake; the gang embarks on a journey not-so-much about self-discovery but instant gratification. Free from Dallas' control, the guys challenge one another to come up with their own routines, like some kind of testosterone-fueled Bring It On. But not everybody is convinced. Surprisingly, these dudes who are chiseled from marble have body issues of their own to deal with; and it's not their pudgy DJ Tobias. Instead it's "Big Dick", and the film's highlight number has him in a convenience store seductively wooing a clerk to the sounds of the Backstreet Boys.

Its little asides like that which keep the film feeling somewhat aimless and wandering, but that's kind of what one would expect a movie about a bunch of directionless dudes to be. Their various stopovers are where the majority of the real bumping and grinding take place. After a National Lampoon-esque accident forces them off the road, the guys pass through Savannah where Mike reconnects with Rome (an extremely sultry Jada Pinkett Smith), a former employer/lover who now runs a giant mansion with a subscription-based clientele servicing hundreds of eager women. It's here that the gang is forced to confront the changing face of their business; it's not just moving one's hips up on stage anymore. The business is evolving, seen in the sing-songy style used by Andre (Donald Glover, showing more flesh than this writer ever wanted to see) to forge a personal connection with the women. Michael Strahan and his infamous tear-away pants also make an appearance, plus Amber Heard turns up as an upper-class girl rebelling against her parents or something. Screenwriter Reid Carolin (who also wrote the first film) is basically telling one long male stripper fantasy. It's essentially guy wish fulfillment, including an extended scene in which the guys party with a group of older, rich, white southern women (led by Andie MacDowell, oozing pecan pie charm) desirous of contact with any men unlike their husbands. And who are these able young men to deny them such a thing? They should have followed them down to the big convention blowout, an incredible 20-minute strip-a-thon culminating in Tatum and Stephen "Boss" Twitch tag teaming two women into euphoric submission.

Directed by Soderbergh compatriot Greg Jacobs, Magic Mike XXL is a looser, freer film than before. Carefree from start to finish, it nevertheless has Soderbergh's fingerprints all over it, which shouldn't be surprising since he acts as the cinematographer and editor. It makes for an interesting confluence of styles, one that works in making a sequel that lighter on its feet and more accessible to a wider audience; meaning guys won't have to feel embarrassed about loving Magic Mike XXL!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5