As a devotee of pop culture and an apologist for media that is often trivialized, I firmly believe that it’s important to take seriously anything that popular culture is taking seriously… And so, in good faith, I dove into the new Blu-ray release of Magic Mike XXL. I wish I could say that I never found the bottom, but the reality is that the experience was significantly shallower than I expected it to be, given the hype.
The theatrical release prompted laudatory reviews from critics whom I admire, and feminist critics in particular were quick to extoll the film’s treatment of women. Despite so many endorsements, I found it to be an incredibly thin and uninteresting narrative held together by intermittent dance sequences, which are the film’s only merit.
Magic Mike XXL picks up several months after where its predecessor left off. Mike’s (Channing Tatum) plans at marriage have fallen through, and the Kings of Tampa — Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) — have planned one last hurrah before leaving the male entertainment business. Needing to get out of town and shake off the past, Mike decides to join them for one last spectacular show at a convention in Myrtle Beach.
On the road, under the influence of a feeling of destiny (or, really, a significant amount of MDMA), Mike convinces his compatriots to jettison their tired old routines in favor of new numbers that will do justice to their grand exit from the scene. This is accomplished by way of a rousing speech about artistic passion and the gift that male entertainers can give to the tired, overworked and underappreciated women of the world.
Of course, everything that can go wrong does. The Kings of Tampa lose their emcee, their ride, and the gear for their routines in one fell swoop. In order to get the show back on the road, Mike visits an old employer who also happens to be an old flame.
Owner and emcee Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) runs a private club in a renovated plantation home where she is able to offer her predominately black clientele a much more intimate entertainment experience. The scenes in Rome’s club are ridiculously over-the-top, but they’re also some of the most interesting in the film, both in terms of visuals and performance. Unfortunately, they stand out so much that the scenes before and after Rome’s club seem bland and predictable by comparison.
Anyway, relationships are repaired, ghosts of the past exorcised, and the Kings of Tampa make it to the convention, which climaxes in the large-scale dance sequence we always knew we were going to get.
The film’s primary concern is the evolving relationship among its central male cast; this is, absolutely, a bro-mantic road movie. That a popular movie is concerned with masculine relationships is not something for which it should apologize, but Magic Mike XXL would have been stronger had it clearly embraced these themes without predictably couching them within disavowals of homoerotic subtext.
Indeed, that Magic Mike XXL falls into the “no homo” quagmire of modern Hollywood masculine insecurity is a shame; it could have actually been something really new and interesting within the romantic comedy genre. Instead, it strategically panders to the queer community (as in the very brief inclusion of New York vogue dancers and a drag queen emcee) while simultaneously underscoring just how very straight every dude in this film is. The attempts to do the latter often come off as appallingly disrespectful of the women the film goes to such great lengths to champion, as in the running gag about Big Dick Richie’s inability to find a woman who can take “every inch” of his, uh, manhood. Spoiler alert: it’s the film’s divorcée MILF (played by Andi MacDowell) who turns out to be Richie’s “glass slipper”.
What there is to say in the film’s favor is that it looks good, and I’m not referring to the physical prowess of its male stars (which is considerable). Rather, the cinematography is exceptional for a film of this type, and at times it borders on the unconventional for a film of any type. The first evening meeting of the film’s romantic couple is shot in almost total darkness, a realist visual move for a movie that’s narratively preposterous. Camera work during the erotic dance sequences is equally creative, showcasing not only the ability of the actors but also that of Steven Soderbergh, the film’s director of photography.
This is a film that definitely deserves to be seen in high definition if one chooses to see it at all. The Blu-ray also boasts a handful of specials features, including an extended dance sequence from Rome’s club and two documentary featurettes about the film’s making.
If one can forgive the narrative, Magic Mike XXL is, in fact, a fun movie to watch. It has a fantastic soundtrack, its choreography is impressive, and at times it offers the kinds of visual pleasures usually associated with an art film. Additionally, it boasts some real acting talent even if it doesn’t ultimately give the actors much to work with. All in all, Magic Mike XXL could have ratcheted up the expectations one has for the rom-com, but ultimately it does very little with the space that it ekes out for itself among the genre’s norms.