‘Magic Mike XXL’ (2015) review: Turbulent gyrations

‘Magic Mike’ sequel doesn’t capture the essence of 2012 original

To my great surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed 2012’s “Magic Mike.” Director Steven Soderbergh managed to merge both physicality and spirituality in an subtly engrossing story, book-ended by gyrating male bodies — not an easy feat.

The sequel to this unexpectedly deep adventure into the world of male stripping and its pressures, however, doesn’t quite glisten the same way, even if it has just any guys thrusting and sweating and shirtless.

Here’s the catch, though: “Magic Mike XXL” is still enjoyable, on both a physical and intellectual level. It has a surprising amount of charm, and for those who want all the gyrations and sweaty bodies, there’s plenty to go around. The story this time, though, is a little lighter, a little less existential, a lot more bro-tastic.

The first film’s protagonist, Mike Lane (the former stripper-turned-movie-star Channing Tatum reprises the role), finds himself in a different headspace, his environment familiar but missing some key pieces. To say more would remove one of the film’s strongest elements, but it’s safe to say that Mike, three years after leaving the more exotic world of stripping for the most mundane world of furniture-making, quickly finds himself in the arms of his old strippin’ buddies (Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash and Matt Bomer).

Sadly, the first film’s most evocative star, Matthew McConaughey, doesn’t return, and the film suffers from the lack of his gravitas and capitalistic attitude (not to mention his animalistic performance). On that same note, Soderbergh doesn’t return as director (Gregory Jacobs takes the helm here), but he does serve as cinematographer and editor.

In effect, “Magic Mike XXL” is a road trip with a bunch of middle-aged men who seek to have one last hurrah, making their way to … wait for it … a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C. After the show, the men intend to call it quits for stripping. It’s as silly as it sounds, and much longer than it should be, though there’s plenty of enjoyable moments along the way.

The moments where the guys gets to expand, get the chance to show us that they are more than just hard-muscled bodies (particularly Bomer’s character), are some of the film’s best, something held over from the first movie. But there simply aren’t enough of them. Instead, Mike’s relationships throughout the film receive both far too much focus and not enough. The story line involving a woman from Mike’s past (Jada Pinkett Smith) goes on for far too long, while the story arc with a women (Amber Heard) meets during his adventurous trip doesn’t get enough screen time or a satisfying conclusion (which is a bit odd, considering how hard this movie worked to neatly wrap up everything).

In the end, “Magic Mike XXL” captures enough of the magic of the original to make it worthwhile, but it lacks much of the subtlety and nuance that permeated the first film. But, to be honest, I’m not sure that it matters all that much. You may be feeling less than excited by the time the final “strip off” begins, but there’s something to be said about having a stripping competition in the first place. Enjoy the gyrations, but here’s hoping there the last.

Two “That’s a lot of thrusting” out of five.

Read the “Magic Mike” review here.

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