Three years after Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh explored the dark side of, ahem, grinding out a living in the world of male strippers in "Magic Mike," they're back with a celebratory sequel, "Magic Mike XXL."
This time Soderbergh has abdicated the director's chair to his longtime lieutenant Gregory Jacobs (remaining on board as cinematographer and editor), while Tatum is joined on screen by a mix of old pals (Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer) and new faces (Jada Pinkett Smith, Donald Glover).
As for reviews of the new male revue? Many movie critics appreciate that "XXL" is uninhibited and eager to please, but also feel that its road-trip story is meandering and thinly sketched.
The Times' Rebecca Keegan writes, "As a female moviegoer, I'm used to assuming that most studio films aren't for me. … So when someone actually tries to make a studio movie for me, as the people behind 'Magic Mike XXL' most assuredly have, I'm inclined to be grateful just on principle. Which is why I feel bad reporting that 'Magic Mike XXL' didn't make me feel all that good. Watching it was like opening the wrong gift — that's not my size, and I don't like blue, but thank you, Warner Bros., for even bothering to shop for me. Most of the other studios forgot my birthday."
The sequel, Keegan says, is similar to its "cheerfully raunchy predecessor" in that it "isn't so much about story but about conveying the viewer from one strobe-lighted set piece to the next." But the "seedy realism" of the first film has gone missing, and "the knowing tone has been replaced by a more earnest one, which doesn't play nearly as well."
More positive is the New York Times' A.O. Scott, who calls the sequel "outrageously entertaining" and adds, "You can argue with the film's depiction of female desire, but it's hard to quarrel with its exuberance and ingenuity. The dance numbers hum with campy energy, and the quieter moments have a sly, relaxed humor. Mr. Tatum's limitless charm is supplemented by an appealing cast, including Donald Glover, who croons and raps in addition to bumping and grinding. Mr. Soderbergh [as cinematographer] paints a gritty and luxuriant nightscape. The audience is transported to a realm of sexual intrigue that feels as safe and wholesome as a child's birthday party."
The Miami Herald's aptly named Connie Ogle finds the film likable but talky, writing, "When you use 'XXL' in the title of a movie about male strippers, certain promises are made. But if 'Magic Mike XXL' is bulging with anything, it's inane conversation. The rating system warns of strong sexual content and nudity, and those elements are present and accounted for, praise the Lord."
But, Ogle continues, "before you get to the good stuff — I mean the really good stuff — you have to sit through a lot of jabbering about stripper betrayal, plans for dance routines that reveal the soul of the man under the rip-away pants, the merits of operating a frozen yogurt food truck and how all a woman really needs is a night with an adult entertainer to get right with the world. That last part may be true, but if you're going to make the argument, show, don't tell."
Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt calls "XXL" an "oddly stilted road-trip ramble, with a storyline far shaggier than its scrupulously manscaped stars." Unfortunately, Jacobs "has almost none of [Soderbergh's] ability to elevate material that is essentially one lamé thong away from a TLC reality series."
The returning cast members are "endearingly game," Greenblatt says, and "the movie's take on desire is admirably democratic," but "for all the glistening, body-glittered beefcake, there's not much meat on these bones."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips says "XXL" "comes up a little short compared with the original. … This time the jokes are heavier, more on-the-nose, though a surprising percentage of them work anyway. And yet the sequel earns its singles, [for] reasons that are simple and quite unusual."
Phillips continues, "Most sequels — most commercial films, period — rely on overt conflict and ginned-up crises to push the story forward. 'Magic Mike XXL' goes the other way. … The script by Reid Carolin is hilariously casual in its plotting. It's an amiably ramshackle road-trip movie, with the guys reuniting because it feels so good and because there's a male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C." Against the odds, he says, there's "no shame for this particular sequel."
But the Associated Press's Jocelyn Noveck sounds a bit underwhelmed, writing, "We get almost two hours of often rambling setup, finally leading to a long-awaited climax when Tatum, fellow chiseled stud Matt Bomer and their buff male stripper cohorts take the stage to bump, hump, grind and swivel tirelessly as gleeful women rain dollar bills onto their oiled skin. Yes, we admire this tirelessness. But is it treasonous to suggest that eventually it becomes tireSOME, too?"
There are "moments of fun," Noveck adds, but too many of the stops along the way "start well and then just go on forever. … By the end, we're somewhat exhausted. Surely 'XXL' in the title wasn't meant to indicate the length of the movie, but it rather feels like it. Sometimes a medium is a better fit."