Magic Mike XXL

I feel like I’ve recapped this movie to everyone I’ve spoken with in the last month. So, if you’re one of those people, and you read this, and you say to yourself, “That’s exactly what she said to me when I talked to her,” I’m sorry. (There’s probably an overlap of precisely one person who both talks to me in person and reads my blog, so actually, this is a very targeted apology. Just wish I knew who the target was.)

OK, enough with the self-indulgent bullshit. This sequel was very good. Not great! But good. Not great, because Tanning Chatum and his screenwriting partner, Reid Carolin, had to account for a bunch of MIA characters — Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), Adam (Alex Pettyfer), Brooke (Cody Horn) — and the exposition-heavy dialogue got very deliberate and awkward. Not that anyone else could have done a better job; those aforementioned characters were pretty essential to the tone and plot of the original sauce Magic Mike. Mostly it’s just a shame that none of them returned for this movie. McConaughey was the best part of what was a great movie, and Pettyfer and Horn gave said movie a certain innocence and certain natural stakes. In XXL, the stakes are forcibly high. The tone is different. It screams “ROAD TRIP!!!” It’s not the same, but it’ll do just fine.

I won’t even tell you what the excuses were for those three characters not being there. You’ll dwell on them instead of thinking about the dancing, which is truly incredible. It’s not even that I was turned on by all of them — though I will get to that part later, briefly — it’s that these guys worked hard to choreograph pieces of visual art. Charming Taters’ allusion to his previous masterpiece in the sequel is so incredibly creative and, dare I say, beautiful. He winds around his workshop table so nimbly and gracefully, and the physical feats he achieves seem nearly impossible. The scene is also a subtle nod to the previous movie’s subtle humor and dark tones, which lighten considerably once he’s through with his dancing dalliance.

This road trip, however weak it may be plot-ually, gives Da Boyz far more opportunities to work their bromance magic, to exchange witty banter, to be comedic actors, and they deliver on these counts. Joe Manganiello, in particular, as Big Dick Richie, dances for a rest-stop clerk in a fashion that can only be described as “comedically sexual.” It’s brilliant. He’s so funny, and so adorable, and so hot in it, but in a completely non-trivial way. It’s charming and dirty at the same time. It’s a piece of acting that begs to be taken seriously, but probably never will because it’s about sex. Oh, well. At least we can all enjoy it because it exists forever in digital form. And later, when the group lives it up for a night at a drag bar, their personalities really emerge in ways that we hadn’t seen before. I always admired in the first movie how the occupation of being a stripper imbued this rag-tag group of straight guys with complete and total comfort in their sexuality. There are no “no homo” jokes there, because they’re above that. It never comes up. And in XXL, they further underscore that sentiment in the drag bar, up on stage, out-doing each other in feather boas and pursed lips, never once feeling self-conscious that girls might not dig it. They’re into it just as much as everyone else, and it’s glorious.

One thing that XXL actually did better than its precedent was the romance stuff… or, really, didn’t do. Nancy (Andie McDowell, in a probably unnecessary cameo) — nevermind how the boys meet her, the plot stuff will just drag you down, you see? — is a Southern Belle who, ahem, is a perfect fit for Big Dick. It’s as straightforward as that. Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith, who is too old to play Mike’s ex, but she’s still got it!), who owns a brothely strip club, exchanges favors with Mike but their supposed former flame never rekindles, because really they’re just doing business together. And Zoe (Amber Heard), a girl Mike meets at Nancy’s, and somewhere else, I don’t remember, reveals that she’s into women, and Mike doesn’t push it. She looks exactly like Brooke, but she is not Brooke. She’s a friend. That’s it. This movie about sex shows that not everything has to be about sex.

Except, wait. The sex part. New and old hotties abound. Donald Glover croons as Andre, Stephen “tWitch” Boss accompanies Tatum in a mirror dance that I hope will get nominated for choreography for something, Matt Bomer still exists and we can stare at him and listen to him, and then, there’s Michael Strahan. You know, the guy who replaced Regis Philbin on the morning show and has the ability to sit next to the perkiest person in the world and appeal to the masses by being nice and bland.

Turns out he can BRING IT.

His dance is the absolute, 100% best part of the movie. The sexiest. The filthiest. The most focused. The most intense. The most embarrassing to watch with other people. The best to watch with other people. The one you want to happen to you. The one you don’t want to happen to you. If nothing else, this movie is worth seeing for his time on screen. Bring a fan.

I’m proud to say I saw this movie on July 4. Celebrating America’s birthday by watching a movie about objectifying men — and men who dig being objectified. What an independence day.