Magic Mike XXL

Bigger isn't better in this pandering sequel.

Magic Mike XXL sort of plays like the lesser sequel to the movie we all thought the original would be. When Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike came out in 2012, it was marketed as a feel-good, sexy romp, the sort of film a mojito-powered bachelorette party might want to attend. Instead, it was a serious exploration of an exotic dancer (Channing Tatum) who found a seedy surrogate family of sorts with his fellow strippers while trying to make something of his life as a furniture designer. Now we have this sequel (directed by Soderbergh protégé Gregory Jacobs)—and it left me with a bit of cognitive dissonance.

For starters, two of the main players are gone—Matthew McConaughey’s sleazy club owner Dallas and Alex Pettyfer’s misguided “The Kid”— and all the supporting players have been promoted to lead roles. Except the film seems to forget that Joe Manganiello’s “Big Dick” Richie and Matt Bomer’s Ken weren’t the stars of the original film, they were basically filler. Magic Mike XXL gives them “The Boys Are Back!” treatment, as though we’ve all been counting the days until we could reconnect with our old faves.

Where Magic Mike brought us clear-eyed realism and was, therefore, a bit of a bummer—the strippers were all broke and past their prime and the steroid and drug abuse was rampant—Magic Mike XXL actively tries to bring the party. Plot, however, is not on its priority list.

Here’s the set up: Dallas has moved overseas and the boys want one last hurrah before going their separate ways. So they hop aboard Tito’s frozen yogurt truck and head to a stripper conference in Myrtle Beach. Mike’s furniture business isn’t going too well and he just broke up with his girl (another major character gone from the first film), so he tags along. From there, it’s basically a road trip. The boys hang out on a beach. They go to a gay club, where they prance and mince on stage to try and win a prize. They go to a kind of stripper brothel in Georgia, run by an ex flame of Mike’s (Jada Pinkett Smith, actually quite good) that exclusively caters to black women. They go to a McMansion in the suburbs where they encounter some randy cougars, including an amusing Andie MacDowell. Finally, they end up at the convention, where the biggest obstacle they must overcome is getting show organizer Elizabeth Banks, in a cameo, to find them a slot to perform (spoiler alert: she does).

Channing Tatum, of course, brings the charm, as he always does. But it’s not enough. The stakes are unbelievably low. Will the boys change their act, or will they continue doing the same cheesy, “stripping fireman” schtick they did back at the old club? Will “Big Dick” Richie find a woman who accepts his, um, girth? Will the New Age-y Ken ever work again as an actor/singer or is he past his prime? Will Adam Rodriguez’s Tito and Kevin Nash’s Tarzan get any screen time? (At one point, in the film, Mike actually sidles up to Tito, whom the film has mostly ignored, and says, “We haven’t had our moment.” It felt like a script note that was left in the final draft.)

Oh, and while I’m bitching, who thought it was a good idea to cast WWE’s Nash, who looks like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, as a stripper? Is he supposed to be a man woman find attractive? Magic Mike XXL was written by a man (Reid Carolin) and directed by a man, but it begs the question: Have either of them ever actually spoken to a woman?

There are basically two good scenes, as far as I can tell. In one (you’ve seen it in the trailer), Mike is doing some welding in his workshop and is suddenly inspired to do an impromptu, Flashdance-like dance number, set to Ginuwine’s “Pony.” In the other, Richie is egged on by his boys to get his mojo back by performing a dance/seduction routine for a bummed out female clerk at a convenience store. (She’s chubby, needless to say. Because in this film all fat and middle-aged women are sad and strippers being nice to them is their only potential source of happiness. I wish I were exaggerating.)

The “Pony” dance scene underscores another one of the film’s bizarre flaws: that besides Tatum, none of the lead guys can actually dance. That might explain why the film spends so much time at Pinkett-Smith’s quasi brothel, where we are treated to no less than three dance numbers from non-speaking characters, including one by Michael Strahan. (Yes, that Michael Strahan). That entire scene, which goes on forever, seems to be designed to bring in dance reinforcements, from Community’s Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) to So You Think You Can’t Dance’s Twitch, who features heavily in the big finale.

And oh, what a finale it is. Magic Mike and Twitch drag two women on stage (one is Amber Heard, a half-baked love interest for Mike), and then kind of manhandle and dry hump them, as yet another woman looks on from the S&M rack she has been strapped to. It all felt a little. . .rapey to me? I dunno. Maybe I just need to go to more strip clubs.

Sorry guys, Magic Mike XXL is barely a movie at all, just a bunch of scenes cobbled together artlessly in support of some very regressive attitudes about women. Demand better.