Guest Movie Review: Magic Mike XXL (2015)

 

magic mike

(Note from Alan: My daughter Rae is handling this one for me!)

by Rae Zundel

Be aware of spoilers ahead, but, come on, this movie hangs on a g-string sized plot anyways.

No bullshit “finding yourself” story here, folks, just bros, booty and bulging… biceps.

And for the most part, that’s what we are paying for. That’s what all the hooting and hollering in-audience signals. And that fun, that sense of “who gives a shit and strip it off,” is why I can give this movie a passable thumbs up despite some genuine flaws.

Magic Mike returns to the theaters in “Magic Mike XXL,” taking our boys The Kings of Tampa (minus Alex Pettyfer as Adam and a missed Matthew McConaughey as MC Dallas) on a road trip adventure down South. We meet up with Mike (Channing Tatum) in Florida working hard to grow his custom furniture business and going home to an empty apartment at night, a routine he quickly chucks when the boys ride through town and loop him into a last hurrah to compete at Myrtle Beach’s Stripper Convention.

Mike, along with Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriquez) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) have a true brotherhood, layered with small ego tiffs, easy cracks and real affection. This is shown smartly and to hilarious effect in an early scene when the boys, coming off a high, attempt to regain Big Dick Richie’s mojo and their own creative juices with a dour-looking convenience store clerk.

One drag-club, an all-night beach party, and a prayer-circle-induced truck crash later they find themselves hitting up an old haunt of Mike’s for assistance. Run by Queen Bee and past fling Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith), they enter a private strip club where primarily black-female clients, called queens, are lavished in an old mansion with attention, crooning, and a helluva lot of bump-and-grind. Mike must step up to squash tension with Rome and prove his ish is, indeed, the ish still. Let’s just say White Chocolate doesn’t disappoint.

Mike and the Tampa Kings are now joined by Rome as their new MC, one of her dancers Malik (Stephen tWitch Boss) and crooner Andre (Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino) as they enter Myrtle Beach and rework their inspiration into some new acts to blow up the final competition.

There is a great scene midway through where the boys unexpectedly come across a group of middle-aged women, wine in hand and bemoaning the lack of desire, appreciation, and experimentation in their own sex lives. Quite expectedly, our boys are happy to fill these needs. That they are able to connect emotionally and genuinely to what these women lack and who they really are underneath their picket-fence false perfection shows not only the flip side of what is being bought at these shows but also just how skilled they are at delivering. Props to an amazing Andie MacDowell as the group’s divorced center.

We are given a lot of fun and unexpected cameos (big shout-out to Elizabeth Banks as the convention coordinator!) that play well with the cast and help create a fuller picture, with one glaring exception. Zoe (Amber Heard), a girl straight out of an Urban Outfitters Coachella ad lacks not only chemistry, but more essentially purpose within the film. She crosses paths with Mike early on at an all-night beach party and attempts to banter, appearing twice again on the journey giving the illusion that she is more important than she really. In the first film, Mike’s love interest (Cody Horn) at least provided an extra pull to encourage Mike out of his stripping lifestyle. Here, Zoe is nothing but an annoying waste of time.

It’s a shame that the convention scenes didn’t all impress. Tarzan’s painter moment and Tito’s candy shop were embarrassingly cringe worthy and, while talented, the song portion just left me wondering what the hell was going on. Thankfully Big Dick Richie had a swinging set, and Mike partnered with Malik gave an all-out gyrating finale that really showcased them as the true dance talent of the group. I wish all the convention scenes had impressed me as much as many of the solo dances earlier on in the film did, from the mansion scenes to the very start with Mike’s perfectly crafted garage scene. When going for it all with the right tone and scope, that scene did it. It was pure expectation and pay off. It was heat and skill and humor and a sexy as f*ck smirk through the elation of feeling what he himself was putting down.

The camera work in the film’s first half was well-done. Simple, balanced frames at a neutral angle created a sense of ease and familiarity surrounding the boys that then develops brilliantly into a smooth yet energized tracking shot through Rome’s mansion. The neutral angle and standard distance are broken and the camera is given the fluidity of a party-goer, wandering through the crowds, eyes honing in on all the tricks and treats. Unfortunately, the camera work near the end takes us out of the story (what little there is) with swooping shots and fast cuts to be reminded this is “the scene” in a blockbuster film.

The strange thing is that this film hit exactly at where I was expecting but I left feeling a bit disappointed. Why? Because I felt it could’ve been more. It could’ve amped up the solo dances for all the characters, been a bit raunchier, more creative and seductive. It also, believe it or not, had a little depth to explore on their road trip out. Try as I might to ignore and just enjoy the eye-candy, it had real possibilities in the characters and their dynamic together–something I attribute almost entirely to the amazing cast and their camaraderie.

Despite being less than I think it could have been, it worked well enough as the type of movie billed. It was light on story, full of charisma and energy, and gave you a true bump-and-grind show. If you are looking for nothing more than a fun girls’ night out, or guys’ night out (ogle equality everybody), then this just might be your pony. Go ahead, jump on it. Ride it. 😉

 

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