“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 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.
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.
This movie’s mission, to quote Gypsy Rose Lee: “Let me entertain you.”
The early review round-up is below:
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.