Magic Mike XXL strip sequel with skimpiest of plots
The sequel to the raunchy striptease flick starring Channing Tatum is anything but magical this time around, says Andrew Johnston.
Many were pleasantly surprised when 2012's Magic Mike turned out to be an intelligent, heartfelt comedy-drama rather than an artless parade of naked male flesh cynically aimed at middle-aged women and gay men. Now, the inevitable sequel to the £100m grossing hit proves to be everything people feared the first one might be.
Thanks largely to director Steven Soderbergh, Magic Mike melded a mainstream-friendly subject to an indie filmmaking approach. For Magic Mike XXL, Soderbergh has been relegated to cinematographer and editor, leaving his long-time assistant Gregory Jacobs to wield the megaphone. As you might expect, the follow-up looks great and flows well, but Jacobs and returning writer Reid Carolin struggle to make us care about anyone or anything on screen.
For no reason other than to give the flick a reason to exist, "Magic" Mike Lane (Channing Tatum), who is now running a custom furniture business, jacks it in to rejoin the Kings of Tampa "male entertainment" squad, as they head across country to perform at a strippers' convention in Myrtle Beach. Along the way, they make stops in Jacksonville and Savannah, mainly so the likes of cameoing stars Jada Pinkett Smith and Andie MacDowell can pick up quick paycheques.
The movie climaxes with an extended series of hen party-friendly strip routines that are as hackneyed as they are exploitative.
Magic Mike made many critics' yearly top 10 lists and attracted Oscar buzz, but from the clunky title to the "putting the band back together"-style plot, the film Magic Mike XXL most resembles is Blues Brothers 2000. And whereas that unloved part two had a giant, John Belushi-shaped hole, here we're sorely missing Matthew McConaughey, whose character, strip club owner Dallas, has had to be written out of the script (or rather, his absence has been written into it, such is the frequency with which he's mentioned).
Alex Pettyfer, who previously played Mike's protege, and Cody Horn, who portrayed his love interest, are also nowhere to be seen, meaning it's up to Tatum to carry proceedings. And while the actor - whose own life story informed the original Magic Mike - still has the body and the dance moves to physically convince in the role, he spends much of the time looking like he envies McConaughey, Pettyfer and Horn's decision.
Unlike the first picture, which was a classic triumph over the odds, here, Mike has no cause to reunite with his erstwhile buddies, other than to indulge his ego, and you find yourself repeatedly questioning the character's motivation.
Sure, his job's a challenge and his love life sucks, but Mike stops being interesting the moment he gives up the fight to live a normal existence.
Individual scenes can be entertaining enough. One, which sees a beleaguered Mike dancing alone in his workshop at night, is snappily choreographed, and there's a fun moment in a petrol station, as an increasingly desperate Richie (Joe Manganiello) tries to draw a smile from the dour-faced girl behind the counter.
But these are fleeting, and the ultimate impression is that unless you're amongst the least demanding members of Magic Mike XXL's target demographic, this grandly titled sequel is decidedly small-time.