Let's face it. "Magic Mike" is not a good film. It’s fun, but not well-made.
The oft-experimental Steven Soderbergh brings a sense of heightened cinema verite and love of other film genres to this surprising choice and managed to make “Magic Mike” better than it probably should be. It became a breakout hit because of the bump and grind routines featuring Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello and the inherent sleaziness of Matthew McConaughey's performance as Dallas, the leader of this rag tag group, the Kings of Tampa. Soderbergh crafts a story and infuses the film with a style taking it straight back to the late- '70s (an overt nod to this lies in the use of a Warner Bros. logo from this era). The story is slight - Mike wants to build up his business and use his earnings as a male stripper to get this going - and the dialogue is laughable. Much like other Soderbergh films, we seem to join scenes after they have already started, joining characters in mid conversation. All of this is Soderbergh's way of paying homage to films from this era. Essentially, the characters in this film fall into an often used stereotype (which was also more prevalent in this era) - the hooker with a heart of gold. In "Magic Mike", each of the characters strips off their clothes for profit, but each dreams and desires of something better and more normal in their life. In "Magic Mike", Soderbergh combines all of this to create a barely passable film experience that just happens to feature a bunch of hot guys stripping off their clothes.
The film became a huge hit because people willing and eager to see a little P & A (Pecs and... well, you know).
The sequel was inevitable.
There are a few problems with "XXL", which make the film about as much fun as watching cold-water shrinkage.
Soderbergh's long-time assistant director Gregory Jacobs helms this entry. I'm not sure why Soderbergh didn't direct - he serves as the cinematographer and editor (under fake names) so he was essentially on the set the whole time anyway. But because this is Jacob's first big-budget wide release as a director, the dialogue problems and lack of story development are especially noticeable. A more experienced director might have been able to handle the material better. In the first film, the stripper routines helped to carry us through these awkward moments. In "XXL", the stripper routines seem shorter and take place less frequently.
Side note - Tatum and Manganiello are the only performers who do more than one routine and these are brief. Bomer, Rodriguez and Nash only do routines in the finale. Given the robotic like nature of Nash's routine, maybe this is a blessing.
The boys decide they are going to make a last trip to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Along the way, they run into the typical problems experienced in a road-trip film - car trouble, accidents, weirdos. Also, they run into old friends and participate in a drag show.
"XXL" only gets the juices flowing during these performances.
And they really seem to be few and far between.
When I saw the first film, the audience was packed with women, all responding to the film, yelling, sighing, catcalling. It made the experience fun. Throughout most of “XXL”, the audience was dead silent.
Because of these factors, you spend too much time listening to the dialogue, following the lame story (or lack thereof) and longing for anything to happen.
Mike's furniture business is now open, and he works his butt off, but he still can't afford to pay for his one employee's health care. When he gets the call from Tarzan (Kevin Nash), he decides to join his friends on the weekend trip to a stripper convention, to make a little extra money, money which will then pay for his employee's health care. The guys decide to make the roadtrip in Tito's (Adam Rodriguez) frozen yogurt truck. This is his goal, to own a fleet of frozen yogurt trucks. Along the way, Richie (Joe Manganiello) tells his buddies he is simply looking for a woman, a woman who doesn't run away screaming when he gets naked. And Ken (Matt Bomer) is still hoping to find stardom and inner-peace. Their MC, Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) gets hurt and can't guide the audience of screaming women through their performance, so Mike turns to Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith), his old 'handler' who now runs a subscription-based house of strippers. When they stop by the house, they meet Andre (Donald Glover), who seduces the women with rap songs made up about them, and Malik (Stephen Boss) who has a mean routine set to R & B music. Later, they decide to stop by a girl's house where they run into her divorced mom (Andie McDowell) and her drunk friends. In Myrtle Beach, they work out some new routines and prepare to take the stage.
And all of this happens in one weekend?
Really, writer Reid Carolin ("Magic Mike", producer of "White House Down", "22 Jump Street") doesn't do the film any favors. In the first "Mike", there was a sense of amateurishness to the dialogue, plotting and acting that was meant to stand in as a homage to the verite-like look of films from the Seventies. In "XXL", this type of writing continues, but it loses any spark it had in the first entry, simply slowing down the action, making us wait longer for the only breath of life in the film, the stripper routines. Early on, the crew decides to visit a drag bar and gets involved in an amateur talent contest (the first of many scenes that fail to deliver on their promise). Later as they hang out at the beach with the MC of the contest - Mike wanders off to relieve himself. Zoe (Amber Heard, "Machete Kills", "Paranoia"), photographing drag queens on the beach, wanders over and they have an exchange about Mike relieving himself on the beach. This painful exchange is meant to be flirtatious, but it merely drags on an on and on. Throughout the film, Zoe keeps popping up and drawing Mike's attention. I don't get the attraction. Heard is an extremely plain looking woman - you can see clones of her coming out of any Forever 21 shop - and she doesn't seem that interested in Mike. Yet, they keep running into one another, so they keep having conversations. Later, they have a long exchange about people who favor cakes over cookies. Nope, not kidding. While the actors are partially at fault for failing to build any romantic chemistry, Carolin is to blame for creating this terrible framework for their relationship in the first place.
Another example of Carolin's lack of skill? Late in the film, as the crew nears Myrtle Beach, Mike approaches Tarzan (Nash). "You and I haven't had any one on one time yet. Everything good?" "Yeah, everything's good". This is the one moment of character development for Tarzan. Earlier, longer exchanges about Mike's interest in building a business, Tito's desire to run a frozen yogurt empire, Ken's desire to be an actor and Dick's desire to find a woman to love all serve to give us some details - superficial as they may be - about their lives. But Tarzan doesn't seem to interest Carolin much. We learn more about the divorced Andie McDowell character.
Worse yet this scene just stands out like a sore thumb and draws your attention to how long the film is.
What happened to Dallas and the Kid? Okay, so McConnaughey is experiencing a 'McConnaughaissance' and either didn't have the time or didn't want to participate. What exactly is the reason for the absence of Alex Pettyfer? For whatever reason, he isn't around. Carolin and Jacobs handle these absences with an explanation. Apparently, they were lured to Macao (the Asian Vegas) to start a new show. Their absence is explained a few times. Really, this is handled about as well as the absence of a major star in a popular television show. Remember when Suzanne Somers was in contract disputes for "Three's Company" and fighting with John Ritter? She was 'visiting her father' and appeared in a separate scene talking on the phone. Sometimes, the star is 'on vacation' as a way of explaining the absence. These are pretty common problems in television. But in a film? Why bother. Simply move on and get going with the new story. Because they feel it necessary to explain the absence of the two actors, it makes the material seem even more like a television show.
Jada Pinkett Smith seems to have fun as Rome, the owner of a House of R-Rated Ill Repute. Her character is meant to fill some of the void left by the absence of Matthew McConnaughey. Rome is a woman who certainly commands the men around her and knows how to talk to the women. But as she says "why do I need to go the convention?" She doesn't. Yet, she shows up.
And when we first meet her character, she takes us on a guided tour of her house, complete with three performances from men in her employ. It is interesting to see these new performers strutting their stuff. But they only serve to distract from the story we have come to see. We want to see Tatum, Bomer, Manganiello, etc. Frankly, the first two of these performances are just boring (including Michael Strahan rubbing oil over his body and then rubbing that oil over the body of a woman). And the sequence seems to go one forever until Mike decides to show Rome what he can still do.
Elizabeth Banks has a small role as the organizer of the stripper convention and Gabriel Iglesias returns as Tobias, the organizer for the Kings of Tampa. Neither is all that memorable.
I don't think anyone ever expected "XXL" to be Oscar-worthy, or even good enough to warrant a second sit-through of all the non-stripper parts, but when even the stripper bits are few and far between, and seem too brief and even slightly tame, what is the point? Channing Tatum and the others are shirtless quite a bit, but there is only a brief shot beyond that early and late in the film. It isn’t enough.
"Magic Mike XXL" is just boring. Nothing serves to draw your attention from the poor quality of the filmmaking. I felt a little dirty after watching the newest exploits of Magic Mike and the crew of the Kings of Tampa. But not in the right way.