“Magic Mike XXL” is one of the most purely entertaining films of the summer

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There are few franchises with less likely of a crossover appeal than Magic Mike. The first one shocked many by engaging both critics and audiences alike, myself included. Today, the sequel Magic Mike XXL opens, and go figure, it’s a great film as well. Magic Mike took the idea of a story about male strippers and filtered it through the distinctive lens of filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, opting to make it as much or more about money and economic hardship/the quest for prosperity than about the dancing. Magic Mike XXL is almost the exact counterpoint to that, going for a party feel and celebrating the dancing/lifestyle in the process. It shouldn’t work, but Channing Tatum and company really make it soar.

Though very loose on plot, this one does pick up three years after Magic Mike ended. The title character Mike is now out of the game, but single again. His former co-workers get a reunion of sorts going with him and before long he’s on a road trip with Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias). They’re headed to a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach, dancing and partying along the way. Aside from Tatum in the title role, the cast also includes Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Donald Glover, Andie MacDowell, Michael Strahan, and others. Soderbergh no longer directs, but he’s the DP and editor for longtime assistant Gregory Jacobs, who’s at the helm here. Producer and scribe Reid Carolin again provides the script, which is loose and fun in all the right ways.

While the stripping was kind of a bait and switch last time around, it’s very much at the forefront of things here, which should make Magic Mike XXL shallow, but instead just makes it sex positive and a somewhat surprisingly innocent good time. How does that work? Well, it celebrates female desire and pleasure, but keeps almost all the hanky panky off screen, so it’s your imagination that fills in the blank. It’s an unusually subtle choice for a sequel that’s otherwise all about being bigger in every way, shape, or form that it can be. Instead of being a dark and almost cautionary tale, this one is a road trip/party flick that’s about the bonds of friendship, doing what you love, and making that one last right count.

The thing that works best here, though pretty much everything works, is the chemistry between the case members. Obviously the returning players all know each other, but they manage to make the dialogue all feel improvised, whether it was or not. Tatum especially has moments with just about everyone, as well as with Heard’s potential love interest. The route the movie takes with that subplot is pretty fascinating as well, also mostly relying on witty repartee and chemistry as well. For what could have been a shallow visual feast for housewives, it instead manages to be something that everyone can sit down and enjoy. It’s sometimes dirty fun, but it’s always fun, with a sequence set in a convenience store a true highlight.

Magic Mike XXL Channing Tatum

I don’t want to make it seem like we have an Oscar player on our hands, since we don’t, but Magic Mike XXL is a worthy sequel to the original and just a heaping load of summer movie fun. It gives you exactly what you expect, while packaging it in such a way that it manages to have fairly widespread appeal. This is Tatum at his most charismatic, while also giving you something with a bit of depth. Even if you’re just a Soderbergh fan, his presence in the editing room and on set as the cinematographer makes this as much a work of his as anyone else’s. If you just want to be entertained this week/weekend, Magic Mike XXL is the perfect recipe for a fun July flick.

Be sure to check out Magic Mike XXL, in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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