' Cinema Romantico: Magic Mike XXL

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Magic Mike XXL

“Magic Mike”, Steven Soderbergh’s unlikely hit, depended a great deal on the no-holds-barred aw-shucks charisma of Matthew McConaughey, but when Texas’s native son announced he would not be part of the “XXL” sequel, it was easy to suspect the follow-up might suffer a lack of compelling drawling. Not to worry. In fact, “Magic Mike XXL” cleverly uses McConaughey’s absence to establish itself, employing the supposed death of his character, strip club owner Dallas, to lure Magic Mike himself (Channing Tatum), who has opted for Real Life in the form of a seriously flailing furniture business, back into the circle of his stripping faux-bros, the Kings of Tampa. They call up Mike and tell him Dallas has died. So Mike puts on his best suit and trudges off for Dallas’s wake…only to discover the ruse and get thrown in the hotel pool. The takeaway is clear: So what if McConaughey’s not here? It’s time to paaaaaarty!


If the first film was determined, and successful, in applying levity to its pleasure-seeking world, “XXL”, as the name implies, is all about seeking pleasure, straight no chaser. It revolves around that most quaint of narrative devices – namely, the Road Trip. The Kings of Tampa, getting old, yearn to close out their careers with one last blast, and so they light out for points north, a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, to put on one last show and make it rain. What follows evokes “Apocalypse Now”, though rather than journeying up river and into the heart of darkness, our gang journeys up I-95 north and into the heart of spastic joy, not uncovering the finer points of nihilism but reveling in the positivism of hip-hop beats and glitter cannons. Forget the hushed philosophizing of Marlon Brando and let Channing Tatum take you home instead: “When shit’s not going your way, getting a little crazy with some random friends can help you sort out your shit.”

Everyone here, from Tarzan (Kevin Nash) to Tito (Adam Rodriguez) to Ken (Matt Bomer) to Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) get a turn in the movie’s bright spotlight; still, Tatum is the glue, his likable presence holding the center amidst so many antics. His lingual style feels impressively improvisational, like he really is just talking out of his ass, his one-liners always sounding off the cuff. He matches up perfectly with Zoe (Amber Heard), an aspiring photographer, whom he meets on their journey in a shimmering nighttime sequence on the beach that’s all luminescent backlighting and foreplay without what comes after. Heard plays the part mischievously, reeling him in even as she holds him at bay, and even if he wants to be let in, Tatum plays it cool, because, to him, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not a simple case of Boy Likes Girl because this isn’t really a movie about falling in love because, at its core, “Magic Mike XXL” seems well aware that love is a tricky, thorny issue that no movie can expect to solve. This is a movie about unadorned, uncomplicated pleasure, and how that’s not hedonistic but necessary.

This is what’s preached at Rome’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) place, a strip club illuminated in blues and reds, evoking a more sincere “Spring Breakers”, where you feel less grossed out then simply infused with an overwhelming sense of love and togetherness, an adult club version of kumbaya. Mike and the other kings have come to Rome’s to enlist her as a replacement for Dallas as their Master of Ceremonies at the convention. Replacement though isn’t really the right word; Rome isn’t replacing Dallas, just as Pinkett Smith isn’t replacing McConaughey. In fact, Pinkett Smith owns this movie with as a forcible a grip as McConaughey; where the latter kept things at a cool remove, the former feels, frankly, as fiery as a preacher, and you can easily imagine if McConaughey were here he would have tipped his cowboy hat to Jada - “ma’am” - and ceded the stage.


Andie MacDowell is the film’s co-owner. This is the Andie MacDowell I've waited my whole life to see - playful and alive. She was quoted as telling people not to take the movie so seriously, and that's how she plays the part, without the slightest whiff of seriousness, as if she just walked on set and tossed it off, playing more Carpe Diem than any crap at Welton Academy. She’s Nancy, coolly lording over a wine-soused get-together of a few middle-aged women that looks initially like that divorced women’s group in “Jerry Maguire”, only to open up into something less clichéd and more relevantly bawdy. She is mother to a girl the Kings of Tampa know, and so these male strippers turn up to drink wine and suggestively chat, and then maybe do just a little more. These women sit in front of these men and open up and explain who they are and what they feel and what they want; the men acquiesce to that desire. Over and over in this movie they acquiesce to that desire; they are here for them. Never is this more apparent than in Big Dick Richie, at the behest of his bros, striding into a convenience store and turning its mucky aisles into his stage, popping off an improvised routine to “I Want It That Way” as a wonky and earnest means to make the female store clerk smile, the film’s true show-stopper, which in its otherwise inconsequentiality comes to emblemize the entire film, one in which the only real “drama” is how much fun can everyone have.

The movie never really wraps up because there is nothing really to wrap up; it just explodes in the final strip convention sequence. Where the first film felt intimate, like a small window into a specific world, “XXL” feels emotionally all-encompassing, sending out invites to everyone, and receiving all sorts of ecstatic RSVP’s. And in its own way, it becomes as egalitarian as the Ferris Bueller-led “Twist & Shout” sing-along, as democratic as Rachel Buchman’s wedding; when your heart is filled with love, others will love you.

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