'Magic Mike XXL' Review: Channing Tatum Serves Up The Perfect Summer Movie

The first Magic Mike was billed as an over-the-top stripper comedy, but underneath those gold lamé thongs it turned out to be something far more surprising: a sober examination of the American dream. We watched Mike Lane try to pull himself up by the bootstraps, only to find himself judged, used, discarded, and creatively constrained.

The sequel Magic Mike XXL, in contrast, is all gold lamé thongs — or rather, it would be if the boys hadn't decided gold lamé thongs were passé. The former kings of Tampa have ditched all depth and ambivalence in pursuit of drunken good times. And it works, albeit in a completely different way from the first Magic Mike. The result is the perfect summer movie: dumb, sweet, eager to please, and hard not to like. 

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From Magic Mike to XXL

At first, Magic Mike XXL appears to continue the more contemplative tone of its predecessor. Three years out of the biz, Mike (Channing Tatum) is still struggling to get his custom furniture business off the ground. The clients are coming, but slowly, and Mike laments that he can't offer health insurance to his sole employee. His personal life isn't much more cheery. Brooke is out of the picture, and the Xquisite dudes haven't spoken to Mike in years.

Through a series of contrivances, though, Mike finds himself falling back in with his old gang. Matthew McConaughey's Dallas and Alex Pettyfer's Adam have conveniently been written out, but Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) all return in exaggerated form. Before he knows it, Mike's agreed to tag along with them on one last ride, to a massive stripper convention in Myrtle Beach.

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Throwing Narrative Stakes Out the Window

From there, the film proceeds to throw weighty concerns out the window like so many unneeded banana hammocks. Sometimes even literally: Mike's business ceases to be a topic of concern once Richie chucks his cell phone to the side of the road. Mike's broken heart heals when he meets a different surly girl to cheer up. Lingering resentments are settled with a quick jab to the nuts. Not even a concussion can stop these guys from having a good time.

By the time the road trip is in full swing, the stakes in Magic Mike XXL have dwindled down to nothing. In most films, that'd be a serious weakness. In Magic Mike XXL, it's a strength. This film is so pleasantly feather-light, it'd be a shame to bog it down with serious emotion or thought. Instead, Magic Mike XXL coasts on charisma, moves, and a naked (pun totally intended) desire to please.

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A Sweeter Take on the Bro Fantasy

As if the returning cast weren't eye-candy enough, XXL adds several new faces to the roster. The best new character is Rome, an exotic entertainment proprietress played with slinky sensuality by Jada Pinkett Smith. She brings a crew of her own, including earnest musician Augustus (Donald Glover) and virtuoso dancer Malik (Stephen "tWitch" Boss).

While the draw of handsome men in their underwear is obvious, it's the chemistry between them that makes Mike magic. Think of its as an Entourage bro fantasy for the ladies, with all of the camaraderie and none of the machismo. Even their locker room talk is more sweet than crass. When the guys hound Big Dick Richie about his sex life, it plays less like leering and more like genuine friendly concern.

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Magic Mike Loves the Ladies

And Magic Mike XXL is emphatically for the ladies, as well as for men who like men. In fact, the guys' road trip takes them down a veritable checklist of demographics underserved by the last movie, as they hit a gay bar, a black pleasure palace, and a middle-aged gabfest in quick succession.  Throughout, women of all shapes, ages, sizes, and colors are indulged without comment or condescension. In the beautiful utopia that is Magic Mike XXL, it's taken for granted that every woman deserves gratification.

It's shameless pandering, sure, but it's a delight. In an industry that typically bends over backwards to please the young-straight-white-male demo, it feels radical to see a film go out of its way to service everybody else. And where Fifty Shades of Grey was women crafting fantasies for other women, Magic Mike XXL is men eagerly subordinating themselves to female desire.

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XXL and the Sheer Joy of Movement

And then, of course, there's the dancing. As with the first Magic MikeXXL is a celebration of movement — not just as sex, but as art. While director Gregory Jacobs' eye for action isn't quite as sharp as Steven Soderbergh's, he takes a similar approach of stepping back and letting the performers do their thing. Contrast that to something like Furious 7, which cast Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa only to bury their talents under quick cuts and frantic camerawork.

Besides, Jacobs more than makes up for that slight dip in quality with an uptick in quantity. There are more dance solos than I cared to count. Highlights include the first number, in which Mike, alone in his workshop, finds himself unable to resist the siren call of Ginuwine's "Pony"; an impromptu gas stop performance by Richie, on a dare from his friends; and just about every move Malik makes. My only complaint on this front — my only major complaint about this movie, really — is that XXL forgoes the big group numbers that were a staple of the last film.

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Magic Mike Is the Perfect Summer Movie

That's not to say Magic Mike XXL is an otherwise perfect movie. The narrative structure is obvious and clunky. Plot points are raised and then quickly forgotten. Characterization rarely goes beyond surface-level tropes. The dialogue is downright lazy — at one point late in the film, Mike approaches Tarzan for a heart-to-heart because "we haven't had our moment yet." As a love interest, Amber Heard makes for only the tiniest improvement over the perpetually dour Cody Horn. And there's never, ever a good sense as to why any of this is happening.

But goddamnit, it's fun. Magic Mike XXL moves along at a brisk clip, leaning into all the absurdities of its premise and giggling all the way. It's the cinematic equivalent of an afternoon spent drinking beer on the beach. Everyone's having a good time, and it seems almost boorish to complain that the Coronas are getting warm, or that Cheetos don't make for a healthy lunch. There's not a lot of substance to be found in Magic Mike XXL, but there doesn't need to be. Sometimes, pure pleasure is its own reward.