Film Review: Magic Mike XXL

Magic Mike XXL poster

Magic Mike XXL Plot Summary:

When Mike (Channing Tatum) hears Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) has died, he takes a vacation from his successful furniture business to pay his respects. Upon arriving, he discovers that his ex-dancing buddies are on their way to Myrtle Beach for a stripping convention. He decides to tag along and as they make their way north in a frozen yogurt truck, the men discuss dreams and dancing and how to make the two meet.

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Magic Mike is a good movie. It made Channing Tatum into a serious actor and sparked the McConaissance. It tells a surprisingly complex story about lost dreams and hope that’s–as I’ve always read it–actually about the difficulty for Hollywood actors to transition from heartthrobs to thespians. What the film is not is titillating. While some of the dances start sexy, they’re just disappointing teases because no full routines play out onscreen. The film has emotional depth, but that wasn’t what the trailers promised. Women came (sorry) to the theater to live vicariously through the women onscreen as Tatum, Joe Mangianello and Matt Bomer writhed on top of them. Finally, Magic Mike XXL delivers on the first film’s promise. In fact, judging by the audience of near-rabid women I saw the movie with, it was a borderline religious experience.

At its heart, Magic Mike XXL is a road movie. The boys hop in a probiotic frozen yogurt truck and set off toward the promised land: a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach where they can make a little cash before deciding what to do post-Dallas. The film is episodic in nature, with scenes of the guys shooting the breeze serving as filler between blessedly-complete, highly-erotic dance sequences. Writer Reid Carolin can’t be blamed for wanting to give the film some substance, but really, these scenes just act as cool down periods after the dance numbers. Like much-needed cigarettes after sex.

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Without McConaughey around to chew through scenery, the other dancers are left to talk about their dreams. Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) want to open the truck for business, Tarzan (Kevin Nash) wants to paint—essentially they all want out of the stripping game just like Mike. But what’s surprising is that they also know that, on some level, stripping is their calling.

When Donald Glover’s Andre says in the trailer that ‘they’re like healers,’ it sounds cheesy and delusional. When he says it just after Mike dances his ass off to convince Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) to be their emcee for the convention, it reads as complete truth. These men are providing women who feel ignored, even damaged in some cases, with attention and desire and they receive affirmation in return. Mike may have fulfilled his furniture-building dreams, but it doesn’t make him feel as alive as performing. The same is true of the film, which is pure energy and sex whenever the men dance and absolute monotony when they talk.

For its orgiastic finale, the film oddly does that thing Glee used to do where the club would somehow jettison the routine they’d been practicing for weeks right before the big show and then scrape together a mind-blowing set within 24 hours of their performance. Though, New Directions never put on anything so erotically charged. It builds slow. Rome teases the crowd, warming them up for what they’re about to see. Then, as each dancer of Dallas’s former crew takes the stage, they put on increasingly impressive solo performances that are more artsy than erotic in the same way Flashdance’s are until Matt Bomer kicks things into high gear by singing and dancing to D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” By the time Joe Mangianello transitions from Bruno Mars’s “Marry You” to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” the women in the audience–onscreen and off–are practically crawling in the aisles. And then, just as Mike and Malik (Stephen “Twitch” Boss) take the stage to finish them off, the movie delivers a whopping lady-boner-killer in the form of Amber Heard.

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Like its predecessor, Magic Mike XXL fundamentally misunderstands what its audience wants. This is a movie about wish fulfillment, that of the characters in their private dreams and the audience’s to be “exalted” and pleasured by them. Mike may want to help this disgruntled girl “get her smile back,” but the audience doesn’t care. Women who go to see this film don’t need to be convinced they want Channing Tatum’s crotch in their face—they already know they do. Like Cody Horn before her, they can’t sympathize with Heard’s character who so actively repulses what they’ve paid to see. It shouldn’t be Amber Heard and some random audience girl simulating sex with Mike and Malik. It should be Jada Pinkett-Smith and Elizabeth Banks (who turns in a fantastic performance with very little screentime), two women who may be a touch older but have enough sex appeal to give the well-muscled, gyrating men a run for their money. If there’s a Magic Mike XXXL (and Jesus Christ in Heaven, I hope there is) then hopefully this franchise will finally realize that what it’s selling is sex. There’s no time for this love crap.

Rating: 8.5/10
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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.
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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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