Magic Mike XXL is an almost euphoric experience, and against all odds (considering I am not at all the target demographic) it has fast become one of my favourite films of 2015 far. It is directed by Gregory Jacobs, a long-time collaborator with Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike, Side Effects, Ocean’s Eleven), serving as a producer and assistant director on many of his films. Writer/producer Reid Carolin, who has worked with lead star Channing Tatum on a number of projects including 21 Jump Street, returns for the screenplay. I read that 96% of the film’s US audience in its [disappointing] opening week were women. This doesn’t surprise me, but my goal here is to convince anyone and everyone to see this film.
The story is set three years after the first film, when Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game to take on his dream enterprise, a custom furniture and restoration business. While his company has started to expand, he realises that he still misses the rush of his stripper days. When he receives a call from the remaining Kings of Tampa who are coming through town – Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) – he is compelled to pay them a visit. He learns that their former manager Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) is now off the scene and the gang is preparing to hit the road to the annual Myrtle Beach stripper convention for one last blow-out performance. Mike, at first reluctant, eventually embraces the chance to show off his moves again.
Some of the film’s many highlights – including Tatum’s now-famous impromptu routine in his workshop – do appear in the trailer, but they are still a hoot within the context of the film. Magic Mike XXL can perhaps best be defined as a road movie-musical, but has a structure that resembles the sports film that culminates in a final performance. Except here there are no real stakes; only the reputation of these men who face some minor conflicts about their routines. All of the set pieces either have a pumping soundtrack, or feature the characters in a solo musical/dance performance, and the film doesn’t let up for a second.
For me, the film is a celebration of expression. Everyone is searching for new ways to express themselves and we all do so in different ways. It may be through the way we dress, or via a particular art form. For the Kings of Tampa, their physiques and their ability to entertain is their language of expression. While on the road they each are confronted with the question of what they truly love in life, and personally hone their language to incorporate that element. It is a testament to the film that a ‘titillating’ sequence involving elaborately sexual physical balletics could simultaneously express so much emotion and feeling and be pleasurable and empowering for both the giver and the recipient at the same time. Towards the end of the film Tatum and Stephen Boss perform as a mirror image on stage. What is so telling about this sequence – and it beautifully supports the politics of the film – is that Boss is a black man and this scene positions these bodies as equally talented, and equally sexy.
XXL perhaps doesn’t have the thematic weight of the under-appreciated Magic Mike, which was a low-budget indie film funded by former-stripper Tatum and Soderbergh, but it certainly isn’t short on message, and actually has a lot more depth than many commentators are giving it credit for. Magic Mike was about the pursuit of the American Dream and the dramatic repercussions of being naive in a seductive but unforgiving world. It becomes, in many ways, a common man tragedy. Some would argue that it alienated the target audience – women hoping for lots of ab-action – but offered plenty for appreciators of cinema. XXL, commendably, has both audiences in mind. It offers up plenty of the desired eye candy, but is also an impressively crafted film that shows real care for its characters during their last hoorah, while being refreshingly racially diverse and wonderfully female inclusive.
Soderbergh, serving as AD, cinematographer and editor, has his stamp all over it. The film is beautifully photographed, and edited spectacularly. The final sequence is a masterclass of editing. With a rocking soundtrack including Mike’s signature tune ‘Pony’ and the best use of a Backstreet Boys song this side of This is the End, this is imperative viewing in a large auditorium.
Tatum and Manganiello are particularly strong from the uniformly charismatic male cast, but it is the women who shine brightest in this film. Jada Pinkett-Smith, who stars as an empowered independent club owner Rome, is terrific. She is electric whenever she takes the MC floor. The natural chemistry between Tatum and an initially unrecognisable Amber Heard in their few sequences is also the result of really strong work. They share some of the film’s best lines of dialogue. Andie Macdowell as a wealthy Southern divorced lush, and Elizabeth Banks, as the Myrtle Beach convention host, were also perfectly cast.
What I also loved about this film is the improvised dialogue-driven camaraderie of the men. These guys all love each other and have each other’s backs. They all had hopes and dreams of doing something else different with their lives and the fact that Mike got out and pursued that dream serves as an inspiration to them all. Situation has led them to the male entertainment industry and they love what they are able to create together. This is a joyously intimate insight into what we perceive to be a scummy world. Refreshingly, there is no degradation or nastiness at the expense of others. While Magic Mike explored that uglier belly, this film celebrates the beauty of the form – whether it is black or white, male or female, gay or straight.
This is a film that is all about the desire to be pleased, and no one is objectified. If Magic Mike took you into the male stripper world as a business, XXl is more of a celebration of friendship and the right to feel well-treated. Often in film we visit seedy female strip clubs through the leery male gaze. Here, the camera loves everyone and that is such a rare treat. You may come for the abs, but you will leave giddy with joy that a mainstream blockbuster film could be so revolutionary.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writer(s): Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez,
Runtime: 115 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 9 2015