"Look, it's not bro time, it's showtime."
Channing Tatum really is magic. Magic Mike XXL, the super-sized sequel to the 2012 low budget, indie comedy about male strippers (or "entertainers"), is something else entirely and more akin to an exploration of fan service. Wrapped in middle-aged male bonding and artistry, the second film is full of more energetic fun as director Gregory Jacobs continues to explore the '70s style voyeuristic playfulness Steven Soderbergh established so well the first time around but with a much lighter touch.
Jacobs, Soderbergh's longtime first assistant director, takes over the direction as Soderbergh takes a (slight) backseat while remaining as cinematographer, editor, and executive producer, but still imprints his trademark sophisticated style all over the picture. It's a road trip movie about hustling and making the next stop before the big finale number to cap off their last adventure. Moving past the subtle critique of capitalism and masculinity during economic uncertainly, MMXXL goes beyond the original's tease of male sexuality and objectification while being consistently flat out hilarious throughout.
There's a really nice chemistry and flow between the ramshackle cast of mostly veteran television actors. Joe Manganiello's Big Dick Richie is the real star stealing the film with a big, pulsing performance as de facto leader of the Kings of Tampa who oozes charm in every scene taking over for the missing Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Donald Glover, and wrestler Kevin Nash bring different aspects of lost boys to the group dynamic. What's most appealing is the refreshing list of mostly veteran actresses who serve their own interests as Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks, Andie MacDowell, and Amber Heard play fairly charming characters who serve their small but firmly established characters in addition to aiding the men on their journey.
Writer/producer Reid Carolin gets creative with the serviceable but intentionally plotless script on where our characters can go. Leaving Dallas' Tampa nightclub for a mythical seeming stripper convention in Myrtle Beach gives the laid-back film a nice hangout vibe for "one last ride". There's a certain lack of stakes or true conflict that makes the film somehow more enjoyable as it leisurely looks at fading male friendship over age. Also, the women, their pleasures, and ideas of power through age /experience are made even more refreshing in the context of male entertainment.
Magic Mike XXL is a supremely well-made comedy, shot like a thriller, with joyous performances, broadly appealing dance choreography, and fun performances all around. Jacobs, Soderbergh, Carolin, and Tatum execute a fluidly appealing yet light on its feet film about everything from brotherhood to aging, female desire, and chasing creativity. Male stripping and gender roles are used rather amusingly to explore adult themes through genre filmmaking. Despite its intimate, somewhat lo-fi production, it's a triumph in the mould of blockbuster filmmaking for giving the people exactly what they want.
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