Review: Magic Mike XXL

It was only three years ago that Mike and his crew of exotic dancers were a surprise box office hit. The film – inspired by Channing Tatum’s brief time as a stripper – bump, sweated, and grinded its way to a $39 million opening weekend and eventually $167 million worldwide. That’s quite the return on a $7 million investment.

Mike and the boys are back in Magic Mike XXL, and this time they’re taking their lap dancing routine on the road.

The story takes place three years after Mike (Channing Tatum) left the stripping game for good. He rejoins The Kings of Tampa – Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) on a road trip to Myrtle Beach for a stripping convention. On the way to Tampa the guys pick up some new friends like a drifting photographer named Zoe (Amber Heard), and Mike’s old boss Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith) along with her dancers Malik (Stephen “tWitch” Boss) and Andre (Donald Glover).

Director Gregory Jacobs took over the helm from Steven Soderbergh and gave XXL a much lighter tone than 2012’s Magic Mike. The film’s playful plot on full display for the entire film but is epitomized is a sequence where the guys are tripping on MDMA (better known as ecstasy or “molly”) while frantically trying to come up with new dance routines. Richie, in an attempt to put his old stripping fireman routine in the past, performs a dance routine inside a mini-mart to a classic boy band song. The guys watch Richie seduces a lonely cashier using just his dance movies, a bag of Cheetos and water. That scene is XXL in a nutshell – dancing, seduction, comedy, and all foolishness that you’d expect from a movie about road tripping male strippers.

That scene also represents the thing that powers the film – the chemistry between its leads. I’m not sure if these guys all hang out in real life, but you couldn’t tell me they didn’t after watching them pal around and crack jokes on each other for almost two hours. Tatum is the undeniably the star of the film but he never overshadows his co-stars. Everyone gets their moment to shine.

Speaking of Richie’s outrageous dance number, Joe Manganiello is absolutely fantastic in XXL. He steals more scenes than I can count with his comedic timing and natural charisma. He has the ability to draw the camera’s attention whenever he’s on screen. It’s like watching a group of gladiators in the ring but you can’t help but focus on one of them.  Manganiello is more than just eye candy, he’s at the center of some of the film’s biggest laughs and even some of the smaller ones like Richie watching in disgust as a group of strippers perform a Twilight routine.

There are plenty of good sequences, but few compare to the guy’s visit to Rome’s “establishment”. Jada Pinkett-Smith gives a killer performance as Rome. Imagine if Jada’s Gotham character, Fish Mooney, ran an exclusive strip club in Savannah GA – that’s Rome. The way the camera follows Rome from room-to-room showing all of the rooms  illuminated with different colored lights was exceptional camerawork. There’s a mood for that whole sequence that’s not present in the rest of the film. Everything about it from the music, to the dancing, to the lights feels like the guys were dropped in a different movie, and that’s  good thing. Besides the tone and mood during the visit to Rome, this is the first time you get Mike’s dancing in the film (cue all the women screaming) and ex-NFL star/morning show host Michael Strahan gives a performance as Augustus (cue awkward Live! With Kelly and Michael interviews) .

I know men will be hesitant to see a film about a group of exotic male dancers who prefer wearing baby oil over wearing shirts, but it’s not as cringe worthy as one would think. The “stripping” scenes are more choreographed danced routines than anything else. They’re just like the Step Up movies only with  more booty-popping and gyrating.  Not to mention, guys might learn a thing or two.

The biggest reason anyone should watch XXL is for the comedy. I’m shocked the marketing for the film doesn’t showcase  how funny the film is. Even without all the laughs, the movie appeals to both men and women. Women get to see themselves treated like queens by men built like Gods. Men get to watch a bunch of guys on a road trip sleep with whoever they want with no consequences.

At its center, Magic Mike XXL is comedy about strippers on a road trip and uses every opportunity to poke fun at the stripping profession and they guys themselves. The film has its faults – like a finale that’s as predictable and drawn out as an episode of General Hospital – but the film is entirely too much fun to let that get in the way. Sign me up for Magic Mike XXX 3D in IMAX.

Grade: B+