2012's "Magic Mike
" began life as a modest $7-million character drama set within the world of male entertainersloosely based on star Channing Tatum's (2014's "Foxcatcher
") experiences prior to hitting it big as an actorand ended up breaking out as a $167-million box-office juggernaut to which grown women and gay men flocked. Audiences came for the tight abs and gyrating pelvises, but under the directorial guidance of Stephen Soderbergh the film actually had an involving story to tell, one about power, opportunity, and knowing when it's time to hang up the G-string for longer-lasting career goals and aspirations. "Magic Mike XXL" has no such higher ambitions, playing more like a 2-hour reunion TV movie of a 1980s sitcom where the cast gets back together sans laugh track for a getaway vacation romp. It's light-hearted, a little lame, and doesn't pretend to hide that it is a blatant money grab. It also, sadly, is only about half as titillating.
This time around, exotic Tampa club Xquisite is no more and Matthew McConaughey's straight-shooting owner Dallas has strutted off to Macau with Alex Pettyfer's popular, wet-behind-the-ears younger dancer Adam. Also nowhere to be found is luminous standout Cody Horn, as Adam's protective older sister Brooke, whose complicated burgeoning relationship with longtime-stripper Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) was the heart and soul of the first film. Three years have passed since Mike walked away from his booty-shaking former life, and in that time he has moved in with Brooke and started his own furniture business. Still smarting from a failed marriage proposal, he reconnects with his former male-dancer friendsthe impossibly blue-eyed Ken (Matt Bomer), the well-endowed Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), frozen yogurt upstarter Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and aging Tarzan (Kevin Nash)and decides to join them on a road trip up the east coast en route to the 2015 Stripper Convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This one last hurrah for the so-called Kings of Tampa will be paved with misadventures, flirtations, and more than a couple suggestive body-baring detours.
"Magic Mike XXL" was directed by Gregory Jacobs (Soderbergh's longtime first assistant director) and written by returning scribe Reid Carolin, with Soderbergh staying on as cinematographer and editor. The film generally has the same laid-back, free-floating aura as the original "Magic Mike
," but this time there is no story to be had, no underlying themes to munch on, and little to no point to it being made beyond the strictly monetary. The pacing is stunted as the picture lumbers from one episodic scene to the next, some more engaging than others but every single one of them drained of any semblance of urgency. Mike yearns to have the days back when he was just hanging out with his buddies and coworkers, but it takes all of about five minutes into the trip before Richie is tossing his cell phone out the window of a moving vehicle as payback for daring to glance at his electronic device. Tensions drift away from there (mostly because of the molly they drop), with an all-night romp on the beach, an auto accident that conveniently sends MC Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) to the hospital with a concussion, a stop at backwater Savannah gentlemen's club Domina run by Mike's savvy, smooth-talking ex-girlfriend Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), and a visit to a Charleston mansion where the guys banter with a group of sexually starved divorcees led by Nancy (Andie MacDowell).
Save for the ultimate destination of the convention where the men hope to go out big by putting on some wild new routines, there is no driving momentum to push the proceedings forward. Either a particular set-piece worksas when Richie aims to make a convenience store cashier smile by giving her an impromptu strip show while Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" invades the soundtrackor it doesn't. Some of the clothes-ripping performances are amusing, but they are also less raw and sensual than tongue-in-cheek, and rarely carry with them the same energy that they did in the earlier movie. Channing Tatum is going through the motions here; he is a consistently likable presence and his dance moves cannot be denied, but any conflict with which Mike is confronted is weakly developed. Without facing much of a personal or professional crossroads (save for his annoying off-screen breakup with Brooke), there isn't much left for him to do.
Amber Heard (2014's "3 Days to Kill
") takes over as Mike's potential love interest, a photographer named Zoe whom he meets during his travels, but it says something about the slimness of the role that her best moment has her threatening to cut him out when she learns he prefers Oreos to red velvet cake. Arguably the best and showiest performance this time goes to Jada Pinkett Smith (2008's "The Women
"), who owns every sultry second of her screen time as Rome. Agreeing to MC for Mike's crew while Tobias is out of commission, Pinkett Smith's Rome is a force to be reckoned with, working the predominately female crowds into a frenzy. As is nearly always the case, Elizabeth Banks (2015's "Pitch Perfect 2
") also steals her too-few scenes as Paris, the brash host of the stripper convention.
"Magic Mike XXL" climaxes in a series of performances at said conventioneach male lead gets his very own moment in the spotlightbut while most of them are conceptually inspired, they are frustratingly cut short. The Nine Inch Nails song "Closer" is put to particularly apt use, but this scene involving Joe Manganiello's (2014's "Sabotage
") Richie choppily concludes without a payoff. Only Tatum's big number at the very end is allowed to fully play out, but like the rest of them it is more silly than sexy. Because the alternately diverting and lurching "Magic Mike XXL" has nothing to say and a plot that could float away in the slightest of breezes, the overwhelming feeling met with the end credits is one of emptiness. This is a significantly inferior follow-up to a perceptive, emotionally sound slice-of-life that didn't need a sequel in the first place, and certainly not the one that has come to fruition.