Well, it’s certainly bigger. It’s also a fair bit bulgier, too, and in almost all of the wrong places. “Magic Mike XXL,” the inevitable sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s surprisingly think-y and bracingly well-made “Magic Mike,” plunges us back into the wild world of male strippers – The Kings Of Tampa, though they’re not so majestic anymore–for “one last ride” together (that ride, of course, will take place on a variety of ladies’ laps, as the code of strippers dictates). Picking up three years after the original feature wrapped in classic happy ending fashion (a nice love story, lots of stripping, that old story), Gregory Jacobs’ “Magic Mike XXL” shifts its focus onto Channing Tatum’s (magic) Mike, whose life has not turned out quite as bright and shiny (and well-oiled) as the first film would have led audiences to believe.
Although Mike has gotten some of the things he previously desired, including a successful, if disorganized furniture business, other things haven’t exactly panned out, like his relationship with Cody Horn’s Brooke (Horn does not appear in the film, though Brooke looms over the first half of the picture). It’s serendipitous then, that just as Mike is going through the motions, the old Kings, including Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez, swing into town. Now operating without their leader and his young upstart (Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer also do not appear in the film), the group is shiftless, more interested in outside interests and other professional pursuits. Still, they’re eager for one last big gig–yes, “Magic Mike XXL” is a “one last job” film–thanks to a performance at an annual stripper convention (only ever referred to as “the convention”) that promises to send the Kings out with a bang.
They never ask Mike to tag along, but the effect of seeing his buffed out bros is immediate, and a conflicted Mike soon finds himself releasing his emotions the only way he knows how: through the power of dance or, perhaps more specifically, through the magic of humping tables while the dulcet tones of Ginuwine’s “Pony” throb in the background. There is so much throbbing in “Magic Mike XXL.”
Suddenly, he’s back–yeah, brotha!–and “Magic Mike XXL” shifts into a road trip film that features a studly pack of strippers traveling through the dirty South (in a retrofitted food truck, making “Magic Mike XXL” cinema’s most unlikely “Chef” tribute), all in pursuit of one last blowout. The road trip element of the film is a funny, frisky one, and as the film meanders through Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, the boys get up to some seriously sweaty high jinks. In service to an actual storyline, Reid Carolin’s script eventually builds in a challenge–why don’t the guys come up with a new routine for the convention?–that takes a backseat to a series of drawn out sequences that are basically excuses to toss the guys into strange situations.
Mike and company finds themselves entangled in a series of messy and muddled subplots that, at the very least, allow for a strong girl power vibe to drive them. Desperate to find a new emcee after an accident fells theirs (sorry, Gabriel Iglesias), the guys stop over at Mike’s old stomping grounds, a paid subscription establishment that is best described as a bordello for male strippers. As the bodies and jams bounce around them, Mike attempts to make amends with the steely-eyed Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), a former lover who might be able to help the guys. Later, the men find themselves at a swanky Southern mansion, populated by Andie MacDowell and her wine-swilling friends, all of who are eager to learn more about their new pals. The stopovers are amusing, but the film’s narrative is too shaggy and loose, starting and stopping with little reason, and its middle act sags even when a new parade of characters stomps on through. It just never quite gels.
The film is the third directorial outing of Gregory Jacobs, who previously directed “Wind Chill” and “Criminal,” smaller scale pictures that don’t feature anything close to the eye-popping bump n’ grind sequences that pepper “Magic Mike XXL.” A longtime member of Team Soderbergh, Jacobs has also consistently served as first assistant director on a wide variety of Soderbergh films, from “Haywire” to “Traffic,” and yes, even “Magic Mike.” Soderbergh’s fingerprints are all over the film, and rightly so, as he also edited and lensed the feature. (IMDb lists Soderbergh as both editor and cinematographer, but when the “Magic Mike XXL” credits unfurl, two of his pseudonyms – “Peter Andrews” and “Mary Ann Bernard” pop up.)
The dancing, however, is the best it’s ever been, and although the film’s jaw-dropping final act, centered on the guys’ convention performance, is one for the books, a minimart-set sequence focused on Manganiello is the highlight of the entire film. It also looks and moves exactly in the way one would expect a movie about male strippers to look and move, which is to say, kind of hilarious, definitely sexy, and mortifyingly entertaining. Still, even the best routines can’t entirely raise the film from its shambling, directionless feeling, and nothing is nearly as tight as Tatum and crew’s dance moves. [C+]