There’s a moment early on in “Magic Mike XXL” that gives a fascinating glimpse of what this movie could have been.
Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) is alone in his furniture workshop. The music starts playing and Mike starts dancing. His tools and benches become props in his improvised performance. It’s a joyous, sexy moment, full of creativity and personality, and it neatly establishes the character and sets the plot in motion.
Unfortunately, things get fuzzier after that.
“Magic Mike XXL,” in theaters now, is the sequel to 2012’s surprise summer hit “Magic Mike.” It picks up the story three years later. Mike has left the Kings of Tampa to follow his dream and open his custom furniture business. But he is struggling financially and his girlfriend Brooke has rejected his proposal of marriage. The Kings have also been dumped by their manager Dallas, who has taken star performer “the Kid” to start a solo career in China. The remaining dancers (who prefer to be called “male entertainers”) want to take one last trip to the stripper convention in Myrtle Beach (yes, there really are stripper conventions) and Mike decides to go along for the ride.
Traveling in a food truck that sells artisan frozen yogurt, the boys head north. Their first stop is a gay club where Tori Snatch (a delightful cameo by Vicki Vox) is holding a dance contest. Tobias (played by the charming comic Gabriel Iglesias, who is written out of the film all too early) wins the $400 prize with his fabulous impromptu tribute to Carmen Miranda. That night, Mike meets the sensitive and mysterious Zoe (Amber Heard) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) meets Megan who invites them to her house.
To its credit, “Magic Mike XXL” is much more comfortable than its predecessor with the homoerotic overtones to all that male bonding. Although the men are still more interested in connecting with each other than with the women around them, without Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) around, there are no references to faggots. Tori and the patrons at her club also help to defuse any potential gay panic. In addition, with the addition of Rome and her crew, the movie is much more diverse than its predecessor.
But, the movie is still oddly misogynistic. While the female characters are somewhat more developed than in the first movie, they are still only defined by their relationships to the men. Despite Roma’s claims of female empowerment, the women in the audience merely serve as props and cash dispensers. The women who watch from the sidelines magically blanket the stage with dollar bills and the women who are brought up on stage get flung around in the simulated sex acts which constitute most of the strip numbers. In fact, one woman is abandoned on stage in a sling when the Big Dick Richie is done with his solo number. That’s not a sign of empowerment.
If you like your men buff and hairless, “Magic Mike XXL” will be an excellent summer fling for you. It’s much lighter (in every way) than its predecessor. The men seem to enjoy performing much more; the minor male characters each get a few more lines; and, Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks bring some fresh energy to the proceedings. There’s a lot of eye candy, but not much nourishment.