Wednesday, July 1, 2015

They Have The Abs, But The Movie Doesn't

The principal cast of Gregory Jacobs's male dancer drama "Magic Mike XXL", led by Channing Tatum, second from right.
  Warner Brothers  

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Magic has gone.  These celluloid hunks of lady-lovin', hip-shakin’, muscle-flexing meathead have melted in their collective confidence since 2012.  Now, in 2015, they bicker like angry bees and bray like wounded lambs on their road travels.  Something is missing from them and the new film stage they’re on.  “Magic Mike XXL” suffers greatly (as did I) from this cantankerous quintet, and from a lack of focus and direction overall.  Gregory Jacobs’s ab-heavy extravaganza never goes beyond skin-deep, essentially standing as a 120-minute bod show and nothing more.  Most of the ladies will love it though, as will some men.

Three years after Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike”, Mr. Jacobs’s sequel finds this rag-tag, homogeneous troupe of rump-shakers with their G-strings and tails between their legs.  They look lost and depressed without their leader Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who we’re told has gone off to greener pastures.  He had the good sense to leave this lot behind. 

Strangely, Mike (Channing Tatum), whose furniture business thrives, decides to take a vacation from it to join his miserable dancing buddies on the road, whom he hasn’t seen since their last rodeo.  These heterosexual “dreamboats” stagger throughout Dixie towns either co-opting hip-hop culture or appropriating drag culture.  They cater to the traditionally forgotten groups of women in America: plus-sized women, Black women, and white women over 45.  The women in their lives, presumably model-size zeroes, have largely abandoned them.  So what’s left for these lonely men to do than shake off the blues and shake what their mamas gave them for the “substitute” everywoman of America?

“Magic Mike XXL” works only to the extent that it creates crowd-pleasing theater and excitement amongst a high majority of women watching it.  In a multiplex the atmosphere of the reaction to the screen makes you feel as if you are in a male stripper’s club.  If that’s enough for you, then enjoy.  But there’s no flow, cohesion or decisiveness to what is physically expressed on screen, or to what comes before and after the almost Full-Monty-ing.  Much of it is filmed in darkness.  I barely discerned an NFL Hall Of Fame player’s cameo in one scene. 

Some scenes are essentially music videos.  Other scenes collide awkwardly and uncertainly.  A scene with five older women including a cameo from a recognizable actress is tired and clichéd, and goes nowhere, except eventually to one character’s belt-notching skills, a punchline that’s hardly fresh.  There’s lots of winking and nudging at the audience to go along with the bumping and grinding.  But these onscreen men don’t enjoy themselves as much as the women do.  The men have dance performance anxiety.  (Is there a blue pill for that?)

Often “Magic Mike XXL” is so pumped up with testosterone and frustration it arrests itself.  Between repetitive dirty dances that grow stale are scenes that are static. Suggestive sight gags of exploding water and flying sparks are hackneyed.  The film stops in its own tracks because the writing is very thin — which is why only performances by newcomers to “Magic Mike” like Jada Pinkett-Smith as Rome, an Atlanta dance-club operator, at least add gloss to a dim surface.  But the film, which is adorned by Ginuwine's "Pony", utilizes Ms. Pinkett-Smith for only 20 total minutes.  Most of the other women in the film are tangential, cheerleaders to male mojo.  Few of the women have any identity or purpose beyond the men that govern or wreck their lives.

Malik (Stephen “tWitch” Boss), a dancer at Rome’s club, shows Mike and his crew how to move and groove, and for an instant there’s a dueling of Black masculinity and sex appeal and white masculinity and sex appeal.  If you can’t beat Malik, join him, the subtext says, and before long, Mike brings Malik on the crew’s strip show tour.  Yet “Magic Mike XXL” makes clear that this is Mr. Tatum’s show, and Mr. Soderbergh’s cinematography gives the actor-former male strip dancer the lion’s share of the screen when Mike and Malik do double duty later.

In general none of the women in “Magic Mike XXL” asserts her sexuality.  They replicate the men by showering them with dollars.  Movie-going women will also shower them with box-office dollars this holiday weekend.  The real world would have seen the onscreen women go much further.  (All you have to do is search online for that world.) 

The film’s women react to the fantasy before them, indulging it, surrendering to it but not quite fully embracing it.  The best example of this is in the film’s lone great scene, which involves a grocery-store clerk.  It is the one truest thing about “Magic Mike XXL”: the ladies of the world want what these specific boys are packing, and not much else.  It’s all a big “you’re welcome” hot dog parade, which goes on about 20 minutes too long. 

“Magic Mike XXL” demonstrates that bigger, in fact, isn’t necessarily better — it’s how you use what you have — and Mr. Jacobs and company use this film’s assets poorly.

Also with: Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Amber Heard, Donald Glover, Gabriel Iglesias, and several cameo appearances.

“Magic Mike XXL” is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use.  The film’s running time is two hours and seven minutes.

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