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Why ‘Magic Mike XXL’ Is Still a Soderbergh Movie: Review and Roundup

Why 'Magic Mike XXL' Is Still a Soderbergh Movie: Review and Roundup

Even though I enjoyed Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 “Magic Mike,” I went into Gregory Jacobs’ sequel “XXL” with low expectations, expecting to be entertained by Channing Tatum, at least. That’s because the well-muscled model-turned-actor, 36, who broke out a decade ago in the gritty street drama “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” and energetic dance romance “Step Up” has become a reliable movie star. 
What does that mean? No matter how bad the movie—and there have been a few Hollywood clinkers, from “The Dilemma” and the two “G.I. Joe” actioners to “White House Down” and “Jupiter Ascending”—he’s believable. The bad stuff bounces off him like Teflon, and he survives with his charisma intact. Every time.
Tatum’s just delightful to watch on screen, no matter what he does, drama (“Foxcatcher,” “Stop Loss”) or comedy (the “21 Jump Street” series). Did his background as a stripper make him confident and not afraid to make fun of his masculinity? He originally came up with the idea of putting this milieu—of which he seems fearlessly fond—on-screen, and first approached producer Gregory Jacobs when another director was attached. When that filmmaker dropped out, Jacobs agreed to develop it with his partner-boss Steven Soderbergh.

So this movie easily exceeded my expectations. And made me wonder how much Soderbergh has retired. Clearly, the workaholic has stayed in the game via television (TV movie “Behind the Candelabra” and series “The Girlfriend Experience” and “The Knick”) and a film sequel that so clearly reflects his aesthetic that it feels like he directed it.

Magic Mike XXL” defines film as a collaborative art. Soderbergh has worked closely since 1993 with Gregory Jacobs, who started out as his assistant director on “King of the Hill,” and moved up to producer. Jacobs has also written and directed a few films of his own (“Criminal,” “Wind Chill”). And over the years Soderbergh has enjoyed doing his own camerawork (as cinematographer Peter Andrews) and editing (Mary Ann Bernard). 

Jacobs directed “Magic Mike XXL,” which was developed (with “Magic Mike” writer Reid Carolin) and produced with Soderbergh’s input and shot and edited by him. Like Mark and Jay Duplass, Soderbergh likes to participate in many projects in multiple roles without necessarily taking the lead. It seems fair to say that the two men co-directed and co-produced, though Jacobs says he got to win the arguments with his collaborator. But staying on friendly terms with his boss is in Jacobs’ long-term interest. 

Jacobs and Soderbergh fashion an agreeably talky Altman road ensemble that bears some resemblance to the “Oceans” movies in that a group of men with a charismatic leader —Mike, who rejoins them after a three-year hiatus—are planning and preparing for a big event and overcoming obstacles along the way to make it happen. The aesthetic is similar to the low-budget naturalism of “Magic Mike” (which cost $7 million) and “Haywire”—they shot the film in 28 days for under $15 million.

“Magic Mike XXL” takes further some of the ideas in the first movie—mainly that buff men can make women deliriously happy by dancing for them and turning them on. Charming, sexy and fun, this gang of “male entertainers” hang out, bond and discuss their aspirations, insecurities and dreams, including achieving more satisfying relationships with women. (The darker character Dallas, played in the first film by Matthew McConaughey, has moved on to hunting grounds in Europe.) 

Two older women are canny and powerful: Mike seems a tad cowed by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), who he approaches to replace their lost M.C., as well as Paris (Elizabeth Banks in “Pitch Perfect 2” hostess mode), who runs the Myrtle Beach stripping convention. (Apparently, Rome was not only involved with Mike in the past, but Paris.) But younger object of desire Zoe (Amber Heard, “The Rum Diary”) is more problematic, as was Brooke (Cody Horn), her flat-voiced counterpart in “Magic Mike.” Zoe has little to do other than look fetching during romantic banter with Mike. Soderbergh has always had a predilection for inexpressive pretty women.

Tatum makes you believe in the sheer joy he finds in dancing and being sexy and his easy camaraderie with the other men. This time the movie explores more about male/female gender identity and dynamics, suggesting that the strippers, whose bodies are sexually objectified the way actresses often are in cinema, can not only shamelessly impersonate women but give them what they really want: attention and pleasure. “Queens, are you ready be worshipped and exalted?” M.C. Rome asks the women who throw bills at the strippers like confetti. 
Yes, as the movie heads toward its conclusion [SPOILER ALERT] many fantasy elements kick in, such as the wealthy southern belle divorcee (Andie MacDowell) who hands over the keys to a fancy convertible and “upgrades” the guys’ Myrtle Beach hotel accommodations. The strippers go Hollywood with their showbizzy fast and furious final number —choreographed by Alison Faulk. And the film’s final shot of the guys after their night of triumph is an outright lift from “Oceans 11″—mission accomplished.

This movie’s mission, to quote Gypsy Rose Lee: “Let me entertain you.”

The early review round-up is below:

The Hollywood Reporter:

“Magic Mike XXL” is ridiculously entertaining. Living up to the extra-extra-large claim of its title, this follow-up to Steven Soderbergh’s rambunctious look at working class dudes making some often moist and wrinkled extra bills as male strippers produces good vibes right out of the box and keeps it up for nearly two hours. Brawny and big-hearted, it’s a sequel that might well take in even more than the 2012 original’s $113.7 million domestic gross based on an intrinsic appeal that may reach further than its prime target of female and gay audiences.

Indiewire:

Persistently lighthearted but never less than lively entertainment, “Magic Mike XXL” swaps the meaty conflicts of the first movie — Mike’s showdowns with the strip club entrepreneur memorably embodied by Matthew McConaughey, Mike’s own questionable attempts to take an aimless teenager under his wing — for a breezy musical road trip comedy. The thin story unfolds as a series of lengthy sequences in which the boys either hang out or show off their skills to great effect. Carried along by their charisma and a vivacious sense of motion sure to please Busby Berkeley acolytes and those seeking cheap thrills of the flesh alike, “Magic Mike XXL” is essentially a loose but well-honed add-on pack.

The Dissolve:

Pleasure is their business, and they can’t help giving it whether they’re off the clock or on. They have fun together, and they bring the fun wherever they turn up, whether it’s a drag show, a private club, a parlor room in old-money Charleston, or a humble mini-mart. More than the first “Magic Mike, XXL” is a loose, shambling party bus—or party organic fro-yo food truck, to be more exact—and everyone’s having a great time. These are entertainment professionals, after all, and the audience is in good hands.

Screen International:

Less lively and sneakily emotional than the original, “Magic Mike XXL” still packs enough sexy fun to merit a second go-round with the Kings of Tampa. Though saddled with plenty of obstacles — the absence of Matthew McConaughey in front the camera, the absence of Steven Soderbergh behind it, and the familiarity of the film’s road-trip narrative — this sequel to the unlikely 2012 male-stripper sensation has an agreeably ramshackle spirit and another winning turn from star and producer Channing Tatum. As for the dancing, it’s as deliciously spirited as ever.

Entertainment Weekly:

The returning Kings are endearingly game, and have clearly foregone carbs for our benefit (though it doesn’t help that with the exception of Tatum, they’re not exactly born dancers). Supporting players including Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie MacDowell, and Elizabeth Banks have good fun with underwritten roles, and the movie’s take on desire is admirably democratic (Sex: it’s not just for hot millenials!). Still, for all the glistening, body-glittered beefcake, there’s not much meat on these bones.

Variety:

Written raggedly enough for the actors to bring their own chemistry to what aspirationally feels like one of Robert Altman’s backstage dramas (a la “Nashville” or “Ready to Wear”), Magic Mike XXL is most fun when it isn’t trying to justify itself, but just kicking back with the guys — or better yet, giving them a fresh excuse to show off their creativity.

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