Well, here we are again. Back in 2012 I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that Magic Mike, what I thought would be a complete waste of time picture solely focused on raising box office dollars by appealing to thirsty women, was in fact a rather funny, at times touching and even a little seedy and gritty film with a touch more depth than one might imagine. However, the lasting memory that movie conjures is, of course, the rock hard abs and thrusting hips of its leading men, and with Matthew McConaughey now departed to bigger and better things, I was left to wonder whether any integrity that the original had would now be absent in its hardly awaited sequel Magic Mike XXL.
And to an extent, I was mostly correct. Magic Mike XXL picks up a couple of years after the original left off, with Mike (Channing Tatum) out of the stripping business and struggling to keep his furniture business afloat. With both his personal and professional life on the slide, Mike decides to spend one last carefree summer in the company of his former Kings Of Tampa companions Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Ken (Matt Bomer) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez), as the group road trip down to Myrtle Beach to give a final, blow out performance at the annual strippers convention. Besides from the stripping set pieces, which are, of course, impressively executed in a range of interesting and titillating ways, one of the key problems with Magic Mike XXL is that is doesn’t really know what it it trying to be. There are elements and tropes of several different genres including buddy road trip and romantic comedy, but the fact is that the filmmakers never give enough time to any single plot line for anything to fully flourish, and the entire picture feels like a hurriedly sown together story that holds together just enough to guide the audience from strip routine to strip routine without too much mental work having to be done. This is not to say, however, that I did not have a lot of fun, because I cannot deny that I did. Whilst attending a strip show is not something that would ever be high on my list of real life ambitions, there is no doubt something intriguing and enticing about seeing Mike and co. do what they do best, perhaps it’s my penchant for musicals, but a great soundtrack combined with real dancing talent (on Channing Tatum’s part, at least) makes for a voyeuristically enjoyable thirty or so percent of running time. The less enjoyable seventy percent, however, borders on dull at times, and the audience are left waiting impatiently for the crew of merry men to arrive at their final destination instead of engaging in the array of subplots that are presented to us along the way as part of the cross country road trip. What felt like a much deeper, more realised secondary universe (mainly thanks to the gravitas that McConaughey brought) in the original Magic Mike, has been replaced by a series of half hearted, rather inconsequential set pieces that feel even more like filler until the filmmakers can next give their target audience what they have paid to see.
Without the real star charisma of Matthew McConaughey to rely on as the original did, the film struggles slightly in terms of presenting characters that possess anything more than surface engagement. Channing Tatum once again shines on the stage as the eponymous Magic Mike, his background in both dance and stripping obviously coming to the forefront to produce the best of the routines that are presented to the audience. Though his acting is distinctly unremarkable, Tatum does enough to be a worthy if not slightly underwhelming protagonist, and the same can be said for the rest of the gang, who give solid enough performances without ever really gelling together in a truly believable way. Joe Manganiello as Richie is perhaps the pick of the bunch, bringing a touch of self awareness and a surprising amount of humility to a character whose ‘biggest’ trait, so to speak, is their large manhood. The rest of the cast including Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez all provide brief moments of fun with their individual characters, but as I said, none of these beats really ever scratch the surface and the subsequent portrayals end up feeling rather hollow. Fun cameos are made by both Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks as ladies in the industry with more than just a little bit of shared history, but overall the cast is shiny and oily without ever really making a big impact on the audience.
Overall, you can’t get away from the feeling that, like many other sequels of the season, Magic Mike XXL is little more than a target demographic cash grab. Sure, there is fun to be had if watched in the right mood, but as a complete piece of cinema the film lacks most of the bite and atmosphere that the far superior original had. The lack of momentum within the narrative points towards the fact that the filmmakers really had nowhere else to take the story, and on reflection, the audience have learnt or experienced very little that we didn’t already take away in 2012. Yes, abs are great, but at the end of the day, abs alone are not enough.