The first Magic Mike, it’s fair to say, was far more successful than anyone could really have predicted it would be. Grossing more than $160 million from a $7 million budget and generally considered to be the beginning of the McConaissance, a sequel was inevitable, and now Mike Lane and the Kings of Tampa have returned for Magic Mike XXL.
The plot is… well, pretty much non-existent, and that’s the film’s biggest problem. The original used the stripping as a backdrop for a surprisingly involving story populated by some remarkably engaging characters, particularly Mike himself, who only stripped to pay the bills while he tried to set up his own small business. Here, conversely, the plot exists to create opportunities for the characters to strip.
XXL is at its best with its quiet moments of male bonding, with the remaining Kings – Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas being notably absent – getting too old for this lifestyle and going for one last blow-out performance at a stripper convention. It’s a shame, then, that those moments are so few and far between, in contrast to the stripping scenes, of which there are many and which go on for a significant chunk of the running time.
Granted, that’s what the poster promises and likely what a great deal of the audience are expecting to see, so it’s maybe unfair to judge the film too harshly on those grounds. Even so, the inevitable need for a sequel to be bigger than the original does swamp most of the quieter, more compelling character moments. Possibly the best scene involves Joe Manganiello’s marvellously named Big Dick Richie doing a spontaneous dance in a petrol station, to the Backstreet Boys of all things, because it manages to combine the expected fanservice with a really strong bit of character building. Naturally, it helps that the scene in question is also very funny.
The cast are certainly all game for it, which is just as well because a film this plotless lives or dies by the charisma of its cast. Channing Tatum is as reliable as ever, but the standouts are the aforementioned Manganiello and, oddly, former pro wrestler Kevin Nash, both of whom do a great job of finding their characters’ heart and warmth amid all the macho bluster and posturing. McConaughey is definitely missed, but Jada Pinkett-Smith admirably steps up to the plate as the Kings’ new MC, and ends up stealing most of the scenes she’s in, which should come as little surprise to anyone who suffered through the first season of Gotham.
This is certainly a much more shallow film than the original, but it’s also possibly more fun, and there’s no denying that the dances are all expertly choreographed and performed. It gives the impression that everyone involved couldn’t quite believe that Magic Mike did well enough to warrant a sequel, and have decided to use the inevitable second film as an excuse for one big party. It’s hard to begrudge them too much, really, and if you’re just here to see improbably handsome men take their clothes off a lot, you’ll get your money’s worth.