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'Magic Mike XXL' is basically the ideal summer movie

A backstage melodrama becomes a goofy if sneakily melancholic road trip in a sillier sequel, which still knows to regularly deliver gyrating flesh.
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    There is dancing in "Magic Mike XXL."

    |Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Magic Mike XXL’
Director:
Gregory Jacobs
Stars: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello
Rating: R
5 (out of 5) Globes

There’s a butt shot in the opening minutes of “Magic Mike XXL,” and it’s not even Channing Tatum’s, and there won’t be another. Them’s the breaks, but if this semi-super-sized sequel is less naughty than the first it’s also a little sexier, definitely funnier and less serious, lacking the drug deal subplot that made its predecessor a little reactionary. It’s also more melancholic, but let’s leave the bummer stuff for another graf. If the Steven Soderbergh-helmed original counted as gritty — and it did concern substance abuse, existential dread and economic despair — its sequel is a little sneakier with its heaviness. It trades the backstage melodrama for a goofy road trip, complete with a car accident that’s only slightly less silly than the one in “Anchorman 2.”

The hook this time is that the boys are back together, minus sinister emcee/Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey and loose cannon Alex Pettyfer. If you’re having trouble remembering individual strippers who weren’t Tatum, McConaughey and Pettyfer, and you don’t know which one was Ken (the squeaky clean Matt Bomer) and which one Big Dick (Joe Manganiello, who has a sizeable wang unseen this round), then that’s OK. Having stormed off at the end of “Magic Mike,” Tatum’s Mike Lane simply can’t resist joining the gang for an honest-to-god stripper convention, which becomes a series of bro hang-outs, though they’re tolerable than that sounds. (Manganiello is a real stand-out.)

The big numbers are held to the battering ram of an ending, killing time with long bro hang-out sessions, which are more tolerable than that sounds. (Manganiello is a real stand-out with oddball one-liners.) But to keep the natives occupied it peppers the proceedings with little numbers, such as a hang with some wino cougars led by a gleefully vamping Andie MacDowell. There’s even a lengthy midpoint detour to an “Eyes Wide Shut”-y house of pleasures that’s like the once-gouged French plantation stretch from “Apocalypse Now Redux” only fantastic. The climax is ridiculous — as over the top as the grotesque capper of another dance-themed sequel, “Staying Alive,” only with a sense of humor and a sense of its own insanity. (It also has Jada Pinkett Smith, who’s been hiding her secret gift as a purring emcee.)

Soderbergh handed the reins over to Gregory Jacobs, a longtime mentee who mostly does what could superficially be called a Soderbergh imitation — all the easier since his former boss again shot and edited it. There’s the same love for weirdo Tatum flirting with emotionally remote women, here a thrillingly squirrelly Amber Heard. But most everything else is different. The boys don’t want to just go through old routines, and neither does the film. The first was about stripping as a job; “XXL” is about stripping as a passion. They want to dance this time, and money — even the copious ones thrown about like glitter at a pageant — isn’t the object.

So here, at last, is the beautiful bummer part: In the back of every character’s mind they know this is if not their last hurrah — wait till the weekend grosses come in — then among their last. One of them, Kevin Nash, aka burly Tarzan, is even 55. “Magic Mike XXL” is not a serious movie, and any hint of drama (e.g., Tarzan reflecting on his life of only transitory companionship) is immediately interrupted by a joke. It’s not that the film can’t handle it; it’s that the characters can’t. They want escape, and what better way to escape than in a mindless summer movie that delivers on what it promised: namely ripped flesh delivered gyrating to bass-heavy hits, and at one point to a Nine Inch Nails song about really intense lovemaking.

As such, “Magic Mike XXL” is an escapist movie about escapism. The characters know what they’re doing, and how what they’re doing is absurd. They offer cartoon sexuality that will be forgotten soon after the show ends. They know what they offer isn’t permanent, and they know that this is a job trading on that most unreliable object: the human body. Instead they descend into lighthearted distractions, put on a show even they’re not sure they can pull off and then bask in the glory that will fade by sun-up. It even has the exact same ending as “Ocean’s Eleven” — another film where the glories of a job well-done turn unexpectedly bittersweet. Then again, it also has an impromptu Backstreet Boys hoedown in a convenience store, and many more fleshy distractions besides. Like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” it’s the ne plus ultra summer movie, and all the more impressive for being one not specifically targeted at straight dudes.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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