In 2012’s Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh depicted the life of Florida strippers, complete with the struggle to succeed, the temptations that accompany the profession and the difficulty of a relationship when your occupation is getting naked in front of strangers. Three years later with Magic Mike XXL, Soderbergh has passed the directorial duties to Gregory Jacobs—his assistant director since 1993’s King of the Hill—while Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer, both of whom were largely the focus of the original Mike’s plot, are nowhere to be seen. Much like Channing Tatum’s Mike left stripping behind as a profession at the end of the first film, Magic Mike XXL leaves stripping behind as a job and is now solely interested in it as entertainment, giving the audience exactly what it wants and little else.
Magic Mike XXL is essentially what the uninitiated believed Magic Mike to be: a series of stripping escapades held loosely together by the bare minimum of plot. In XXL, Mike has moved beyond his stripping past and begun the furniture venture he once dreamed of owning. Unfortunately his new business hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations; he’s often relegated to carrying his own furniture to buyers along with his sole employee. All it takes is a spin of Ginuwine’s “Pony” for him to turn his workshop into the perfect locale for an impromptu dance session.
A visit from his old friends at the Xquisite Strip Club prompts Mike to take a vacation from his business. Together with his former co-workers, he hits the road in an organic frozen yogurt truck en route to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. The journey from Florida to South Carolina meets with the occasional speed bump, and new and old friends, some of whom join the crew for the big event, but the stakes are ridiculously low. There’s no contest of any kind at this convention—it’s just an opportunity to show off the East Coast’s finest male entertainers.
Along the way up I-95, we’re given stripping exhibitions everywhere from an old Southern mansion to a convenience store, where bottled water and Cheetos are used as props. Their trek isn’t toward any actual goal, but more toward discovering their individual passions and incorporating them onstage. With McConaughey’s Dallas out of the picture, no longer telling the guys what to do, they throw out their old costumes and routines and embark on a Molly-enhanced journey of self-discovery. Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Richie—the series’ scene-stealer—desires to find “the one,” so he integrates the idea of commitment into his act. Matt Bomer’s Ken originally moved to Florida to become a singer but got sidetracked with his new career, so naturally he adds this aspect of performance to his stage repertoire. Surprisingly the only character for whom this doesn’t apply is the eponymous Mike—granted, likely because he’s already found his true passion, even if it seems to have lost its appeal.
Magic Mike XXL maintains the gorgeous cinematography of the original, no surprise considering Soderbergh remains on the project as editor and cinematographer. The sequel is also filled with exceptionally great choreography; it’s almost unbelievable that a human being could move so swiftly and with such grace, even if said person is grinding against the ground.
Reid Carolin’s screenplay, while smartly focused on the bond between these men, often gets into stretches of bland nonsense. Carolin seems most interested in presenting the group the opportunity to show off their skills in as many different environments and ways as possible, but the result feels like little more than fan service. It’s entertaining without any weight behind the story at all.
Unlike its sharp predecessor, XXL is light and lacking purpose. There’s certainly nothing wrong with such fun, but don’t count on anything to stick with you.
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writer: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Jada Pinkett Smith
Release Date: July 1, 2015
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.