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If there’s ever been a movie that’s truly critic-proof, it’s Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s light and breezy 2012 film that made male strippers cool for both women and men.
The first Magic Mike at least had the essence of a plot, with cool-guy dancer Mike (Channing Tatum) going through an existential crisis while mentoring a new on-stage recruit and trying to launch his own handmade furniture business. Magic Mike XXL, however, has no plot, nor any real conflict. After three years off the pole, so to speak, Mike reconnects with his former troupe and heads on a shenanigan-heavy road trip from Tampa to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for the annual stripper convention. That’s it—that’s the entire plot.
But people (okay, women) will buy tickets to see Magic Mike XXL for reasons other than narrative tension—they’ll go to see some likable bros disrobe and gyrate to old-school hip-hop tracks. And in that regard, Magic Mike XXL, directed by Soderbergh’s longtime assistant director, Gregory Jacobs, is a nearly two-hour-long money shot. Tatum and his co-stars, particularly a totally game Joe Manganiello, salvage the film’s non-existent character development through sheer magnetic charm, a kind of gender-neutralizing energy that makes it okay for guys to laugh while their girlfriends ogle the screen. That’s exemplified in a scene where Manganiello performs an impromptu routine in rinky-dink convenience store, to the sounds of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”
Beneath the rampant muscles and comedy, though, lies a subtle yet hugely commendable sense of pro-women positivity. What Magic Mike XXL doesn’t have in plot, it makes up for with an almost hell-bent sense of giving its female audience members and women characters everything they desire. Tatum and his cohorts repeatedly talk about how they, not the women’s husbands, are the only ones asking the ladies “what they want”; the elaborate dance sequences function as extended moments of shameless fan-service, with Tatum grinding on women of all shapes, colors and sizes. The great but long-absent-from-the-screen Andie MacDowell shows up for a scene where she and her fellow middle-aged lady friends are treated like queens by the fellas.
Unexpectedly feminist, Magic Mike XXL isn’t unlike another one of this summer’s cinematic high-points, Mad Max: Fury Road: both look like bro-centric movies on the surface, but their sensory overloads are quietly aimed more towards women. And both are, in their own odd ways, revolutionary.
Magic Mike XXL opens in wide release today, July 1. To get yourself in the mood before seeing it, revisit these classic R&B jams, both of which, like Ginuwine's "Pony" in Magic Mike, play key roles in the film. (And are just worth another listen regardless, because they're great.)
Jodeci, "Freek'n You," from The Show, the After Party, the Hotel (1995)
112, "Anywhere," from Room 112 (1998)