“Magic Mike” didn’t have much of a plot, but “Magic Mike XXL” offers even less. Part episodic road movie, part “let’s put on a show” hokum (though the result is something Judy and Mickey would never have dreamed of), the narrative-deprived picture appears to be designed solely for those for whom dirty dancing and abundant exposed male flesh will be sufficient attractions.
Despite the title—and an expanded running-time (at 115 minutes, five longer than the 2012 original)—the sequel is slimmed-down in cast as well as story. Gone are club owner and show MC Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who’s described as having taken an offer to mount an act in far-off lands; Adam (Alex Pettyfer), the young man Mike took under his wing, made a star and saved from drug-dealers, whose absence goes unmentioned; and Brooke (Cody Horn), Adam’s sister and Mike’s love interest, who’s offhandedly described as having left him.
As for Mike (Channing Tatum), he’s working non-stop at his long-dreamed-of custom furniture business, but demand is low and he has only a single employee, for whom he can’t even afford benefits. He’s also itching to get back to dancing, as an impromptu solo routine to the radio in his workshop clearly demonstrates. So when the remaining members of Dallas’ old troupe—Ken (Matt Bomer), “Big Dick” Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash)—invite him to what they claim is a wake but is just a pool party at a local motel, a stopover on their way to a last-bash show at a competition in Myrtle Beach, he jumps at the chance to join them.
The big “plot” device is that Mike convinces the crew that since this will be their swan song, they should all ditch their old routines in favor of something reflective of each one’s particular dream. So hulking Nash, who can’t really dance anyway, will come up with something about his passion, painting; Tito will meld his frozen-yogurt business into his act; Ken will employ his singing talent in his bit; Richie will axe his fireman routine for something more personal. As for Mike, his elaborate set will apparently indulge his furniture-making inclination by including chairs in the routine.
It will also have another prop—a pretty, tart-tongued photographer named Zoe (Amber Heard) whom Mike met on a beach and bumps into again at one of their stops, a southern mansion where Nancy (Andie MacDowell), the mother of another girl the guys have met on the road, is hosting a drunken divorce party. There not only does Mike reconnect with Zoe, but Richie, Ken and Tito all have the opportunity to engage with Nancy and her tipsy friends, too.
But there’s an even more important stop along the way—at the Savannah strip club, Domina, run by Mike’s one-time boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith). They detour there after their DJ and driver Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) is injured in a road accident and laid up in a hospital, and Mike hopes Rome can help them out. There he has to compete with Rome’s house stars—Andre (Donald Glover), a romantic rapper; muscular Augustus (Michael Strahan); and athletic Malik (Stephen “tWitch” Boss) to prove he’s still “got it”—but by exhibiting his old prowess, as it turns out, he wins the assistance of them all. The movie culminates, naturally enough, at the Myrtle Beach convention, where each of the guys does his act after a stem-winding introduction from Rome, and all supposedly wow the frenetic crowd, even though the acts come across—to one observer at least—as not particularly amazing, despite the glitz (which seems implausibly massive given that the routines were supposedly thrown together at the last minute).
Of course one can’t expect logic or credibility of a movie like this, any more than one could of the old Garland-Rooney putting-on-a-show pictures. But one could ask for something that doesn’t feel as though it was thrown together as cavalierly as the routines our heroes purportedly come up with over the course of their trip. The action has a loose, flippant feel that has some charm but mostly seems merely sloppy (the direction is credited to Gregory Jacobs, though one suspects some input from Steven Soderbergh, who shot the picture under his usual pseudonym Peter Andrews, and also edited it under another, Mary Ann Bernard). The cast falls into the easygoing pattern, delivering the dialogue in a carefree, often overlapping fashion reminiscent of Altman. Tatum easily holds center stage with his natural charisma and again shows off some spectacular moves, but Manganiello gets the opportunity to shine as well, with Bomer, Rodriguez and Nash staying more in the background, though Bomer has a few splashier moments. Pinkett goes for broke as Rome, playing to the rafters, and so does MacDowell, who drawls her way seductively through her scenes with Manganiello. Heard is amiably laid-back until she lets loose in the final dance sequence.
The first “Mike” wasn’t all that magical, but this one is even less so, little more than a slapdash woman’s wish-fulfillment fantasy, in which male entertainers bare their all for their pleasure, that embodies a man’s wish-fulfillment one, in which their jiggling and shaking sets women a-flutter.