01 July 2015

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Okay, so the first Magic Mike wasn’t technically a dance movie since it was Steven Soderbergh’s attempt to make a semi-serious film about male strippers. For the sequel, Soderbergh is just exec producing and XXL has totally turned into a dance movie! I mean, SYTYCD and Step Up alum Twitch is in this thing! That's when you know it's official.

A little backstory on my history with Magic Mike. I (mistakenly) made like half a dozen friends go watch it with me on opening night in 2012, leveraging Soderbergh's auteur credentials and the pull of Channing Tatum. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t very good. I mean, I loved it, and Matthew McConaughey was amazing, but Magic Mike wasn’t say, The Wrestler. It tried to sort of be dark and have human emotions but really, Magic Mike ended up squarely in the “pretty awful but fun” camp.

This time out, XXL has embraced its inner campiness, turned the focus on pure entertainment, and tossed aside all previous pretentiousness and given us a movie that is just fun, fun, fun. Spoiler alert: This movie is gonna rank really high on my dance movie scoring scale, like frighteningly high. Like maybe the best one ever high. Beware.

Tagline: “Back to the grind.” Someone should receive an award for this tagline. Absolute perfection.

1. Plot (6)
Magic Mike, aka Channing Tatum, left stripping behind at the end of the first movie to pursue his custom furniture business and home life with a steady girlfriend. Like he says in XXL, he was ready for that Downton Abbey life. Instead, with a broken heart and a head of shattered dreams, he’s ready to join his friends, the former Kings of Tampa, when they come calling for “one last ride."

While this isn’t exactly an original premise, there are two or three set pieces along the way, as the boys road trip toward a stripper convention, that makes XXL a cut above the rest. Also, as my fellow moviegoer pointed out, there’s no “oh shit, everything is going wrong” downturn in the story. XXL is simply a joy ride all the way through with no lame speed bumps to slow things down.

2. Can the lead characters dance (10)
There was a time where I would get into arguments about whether Channing Tatum could dance or not. My take is that while he’s pretty good, he definitely wasn’t amazing or anything in the first Step Up. Of course, as hindsight always proves, I’m an idiot and of course Channing Tatum is a great dancer. And when he’s stripper dancing, like wow. Off the charts. If you thought Magic Mike had some fantastic dancing, XXL will take it to the next level.

And while Tatum is clearly the star of the show, this time out, four of his buddies get a nice amount of screen time too. Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Matt Bomer, and Kevin Nash aren’t on Tatum’s level but they can definitely get the job done dance wise. So yeah, get your dollar bills ready.

3. How’re the dance scenes? (10)
I’ll just leave a big fat "10" up there and let you watch this movie for yourself to witness the dance stuff. Suffice to say, there’s something for everyone. There’s sexy dance scenes, fun dance scenes, hilarious dance scenes, acrobatic dance scenes, “OMG what is happening” dance scenes, and genuinely holy shit dance scenes — the end one with Twitch and Tatum doing mirrored choreography was quite impressive.

Plus, there’s a Backstreet Boys scene by Manganiello that may have been my favorite of the movie. Yeah, just go watch XXL already. I guess you could take a peek at the trailer if you're still not convinced.

4. How’s the love story? (6)
Short, painless, and mostly non-existent! Simply subtracting the awful Cody Horn from Magic Mike was an instant improvement. Sure, Amber Heard is nominally around to be the love interest — and she’s okay doing a blonde Kristin Stewart impression — but this movie isn’t about heteronormative relationships.

Instead, the relationships that XXL focuses are the bromances between Channing and his boys. You get the feeling that everyone really missed each other during Mike’s time away and while there may be some hurt feelings, the guys actually talk them out. And at one point Channing even gets his cell phone tossed out the window because his friends want him to focus and "be present," to bond during their last weekend together. Sweet stuff! And deserving of a higher than average grade.

5. Rate the sidekicks (10)
Technically speaking, each of the other Kings of Tampa are Magic Mike’s sidekicks but the movie goes out of its way to imbue each of them with a personality or backstory, unlike the first movie. And as it turns out, that depth makes for a much funnier and enjoyable movie. They're co-stars this time around, and not just window dressing. So let’s set aside the idea that Big Dick Richie, Tito, Ken, and Tarzan are sidekicks so we can focus on the amazing cameos in XXL.

Seriously, what a cameo list. Let’s start up top with Jada Pinkett Smith, who was just amazing in her role as Rome, proprietor of a Savannah's best-kept secert and eventually the guys’ MC. Jada is great in this movie, like G-R-E-A-T. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Housed within Rome’s house of pleasure are Donald Glover, Twitch, and I swear it’s true, former NFL superstar and Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. I was like, “Wait, is that seriously Michael Strahan? No!” Also, apparently Ric Flair made a cameo? But I didn’t see him. Maybe on the rewatch…

On top of that, Andie MacDowell, sweet sweet Andie MacDowell is in this movie. And she’s perfect. In fact, every cast member in this movie is perfect actually. Unlike, you know, the disaster that was Cody Horn and Alex Pettyfer in the original. Speaking of Pettyfer, his career went down the tubes pretty fast eh?

6. Best line (7)
There’s a lot of conversations in the movie, and a lot of lines directed squarely at the movie’s prime demographic: thirsty women! Especially those raised on a diet of late Nineties era boy bands, Disney movie references, and say, young adult book/movie phenomenons. Not to mention that little Fifty Shades of Grey thing. Whoever wrote XXL definitely knew what to serve up to its audience in wink wink asides and references.

I can’t even remember most of the good lines (“We’re like healers or something…”) but the best one was definitely when Tatum is introducing himself to Heard’s character. “Nice to meet you. [I'm] Magic…*twirls*…Magic Mike.” So good! Just watch it. Also, the guys perform as "Resurrection," which is kind of a good name for a boy band. Plus there's five main characters, and they're from Florida...aha! I see what you did there you clever script geniuses.

7. Music (8)
Of course there was “Pony,” just like there had to be. But then there were the D’Angelo and Bruno Mars covers, by Matt Bomer and Donald Glover respectively. Also: Bomer can sing man, he does an acapella cover of Bryan Adam’s “Heaven.” Bryan Adams in a stripper movie, who would have thought?

Throw in some Jodeci, some R.Kelly and 112, and the soundtrack was definitely headed toward the top of the charts. The clincher for me was Glass Animal’s “Gooey” over the closing credits. “Gooey” is great and totally unexpected and well, it’s just high scores all around. Am I gushing, can you see it on my face?

8. Fashion (5)
I mean, most of the characters are in (very temporary) tank tops and half-naked for most of the movie so there’s not much fashion to discuss. Amber Heard’s character had her troubled hippie/hipster look down, but nothing else really stood out.

Oh wait, there’s the costumes that the guys put on to perform. After throwing out all their old getups, there's a “putting it all together” montage that involves lots of cutting and snipping as the guys make their new outfits. Tarzan even shows off his glitter skills. It was all very arts and crafts. Hello glitter! Plus, shout out to body oil, which definitely had its own line item in the budget.

9. Cultural Impact (8)
XXL isn’t just mere throwaway entertainment either. A movie centered around a couple of dicks is getting the feminist Mad Max: Fury Road once-over and it mostly fits. "This time the movie explores more about male/female gender identity and dynamics, suggesting that the strippers, whose bodies are sexually objectified the way actresses often are in cinema, can not only shamelessly impersonate women but give them what they really want: attention and pleasure.” Click on for the think pieces:
10. Miscellaneous (8)
Well, we can hope XXL eclipses all box office records but it’s been contending with Jurassic World and Inside Out so it won't ever likely hit #1 at the box office, like it so obviously deserves. Seriously, this was one of the most enjoyable movies of the year so far -- not even grading on a dance movie curve -- and I won’t be shutting up about it for at least a month.

After all, XXL was about fulfilling fantasies and chasing dreams. When revamping their routines, each of the main characters do so with their personal ambitions/interests in mind. For example, Big Dick Richie is a man afraid of fire who has been doing a fireman routine for years. What he ends up choreographing is far more in tune with his inner self. The XXL lesson is that if you put your passion into your work, you’ll have a greater chance to succeed. Or something like that. There are a lot of quasi-deep moments in XXL, like seriously.

Also, if you've made it this far into the review, then you clearly are interested in Chocolate City, aka the black Magic Mike. Chocolate City has Ginuwine and Tyson Beckford in it. (Tyson Beckford, where you been!?!) After Chocolate City will surely come the Asian, Hispanic, etc. versions of Magic Mike right? #weneeddiversity

Yup, just like I suspected, Magic Mike XXL topped the charts for my dance movie series, narrowly edging out Centerstage by one point. It also tied Centerstage's record for three perfect category scores. What else can I say really? This is a good ass movie, and guaranteed to be a fun time simply for its ridiculousness.

While you go buy tickets for XXL, I'm gonna go work on my body roll because seriously, you cannot get anywhere in life without a decent body roll, right?