I’ve really grown to enjoy Channing Tatum (Or is it Tanning Chatum?) over the years. It was hardly love at first sight. His first few film appearances felt stiff. I was certain this guy was nothing more than a well-formed hunk of man meat. I thought he would amount to little more than another pretty face who would soon find obscurity with other two-dimensional slabs of wood. I endured garbage like “Step Up” and “GI Joe” and wondered how many more seconds were left on his 15 minutes of fame. Then, something happened: I saw him in the hilarious “21 Jump Street.” Suddenly, it clicked. I understood his appeal, and now I find myself actively rooting for his success. He has livened up average fare like “White House Down” and even managed to sharpen his dramatic chops in “Foxcatcher.”
The original “Magic Mike” is one of those interesting Soderbergh movies that manages to defy expectations. On the surface, a movie about male exotic dancers feels like an attempt to lure in female moviegoers. However, the final product is something a little deeper and benefitted greatly from some talented actors in beefcake roles. The fact that “Magic Mike” got a sequel is one of those strange cinematic anomalies. “Magic Mike XXL” is less a sequel and more like a poor excuse to get the band back together again—most of them anyway.
Mike (Tatum) has left the world of stripping behind for an attempt at a legitimate business. Things are going as smooth as he’d like, and he still can’t shake the urge to randomly break into dance. An opening scene shows us that Mike is still prone to riding a pony, even if no one is trying to stuff 20 dollar bills into his speedo.
Mike reunites with some of his old friends, including Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), and they embark on a road trip to Myrtle Beach, which feels about as organic as a doughnut made from plastic grocery bags. It’s a flimsy excuse to put these sweaty men back together for some road-trip adventures through the sunshine state.
The movie starts out in Florida, America’s tackiest state. I grew up in South Florida, so I consider myself an expert on tastelessness. “Magic Mike XXL” is a wonderful ode to tasteless. The main characters are the kind of hard-partying people well past their prime—ones you often see getting in fights at a 7-11 parking lot or being chased naked on an episode of “COPS.”
The men of “Magic Mike” have chemistry and charisma. Everything that works about the movie is based upon putting a bunch of likable guys together and letting them be stupid. Whether it’s watching them perform a drug-induced dance in a convenience store or argue over choreography, the magic of “XXL” is based solely on the cast. Everything else … not so much.
A lot of the script feels improvised. It’s not so unbelievable that the movie script could be nine pages of hand-scribbled ideas on a bar napkin. There’s a lot of moments in the film where audiences can feel everything coming to a dramatic dead end. Clichés are employed with reckless abandon: Oh, no! The RV our dancing men drive breaks down. How ever will they make the money to get back on the road? We’ll go to a club and … dance! Who saw that coming? Oh wait, everyone on the face of the earth.
I wouldn’t fault a piece of hammy melodrama for such poor plotting if it wasn’t glaringly terrible. There are some scenes in “Magic Mike XXL” that feel so effortless and others like a chore: like scooting across a dance floor of thumbtacks on your bare ass. There’s a scene introducing Jada Pinkett Smith as a club owner, and it might go down as the worst scene I’ve suffered through this year.
“Magic Mike XXL” fails to capture much of the fun of the original. I was pleasantly surprised by the original but was ultimately bored by this unnecessary follow-up. There’s some fun to be had, a few nice moments with these characters who are beginning to realize their dancing days are coming to a close. I rather appreciated some of the melancholy of one last ridiculous adventure these insanely fit, aging men embark upon. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels forced, and there’s barely a single original thought in the utterly pointless sequel.