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No ‘Magic’ whatsoever in ‘Mike XXL’

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REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media

If you saw Channing Tatum in “Step Up,” you may have been taken aback by his skill as a dancer. Tatum does have an extremely well-toned, athletic physique. However, it’s that of a muscled up middle linebacker, not the lean body customarily associated with dancers. Yet, there he was, busting killer hip hop moves with abandon.

Where did his skill set originate? It turns out that as an 18-year old, long before he became a full-fledged movie star, Channing Tatum spent eight months, working as a male stripper in Tampa, Florida.  You might think that he would be eager to conceal a past that some might consider sordid.

However, Tatum harbored no such sensibilities. Indeed, he actively pursued doing a film, which was inspired by his experiences as an exotic dancer. Such was the inception of the 2012 release, “Magic Mike.” The film was co-produced by Tatum and Reid Carolin, who wrote the screenplay.

Some were taken aback when it was announced that Steven Soderberg had agreed to helm the film. The highly regarded director had made such films as. “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “Out of Sight, and “The Limey”  In 2001, Soderbergh received a double nomination for making “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic.” He won the Oscar as Best Director for the latter film. Suddenly, a certain credibility was conferred on the fledgling project.

In the film, Tatum played Mike Lane, a Tampa man with grandiose entrepreneurial aspirations. In the interim, he is supporting himself through a series of various odd jobs. One of them is working as a featured performer in Xquisite Strip Club, a venue operated by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).

“Magic Mike” became a critical and commercial success. It ended up on the top ten lists of numerous critics and generated some Oscar buzz for McConaughey. Shot on a modest $7 million budget, the film raked in over $167 million in worldwide box office.

As “Magic Mike XXL” opens, it has been three years since Mike bowed out as a stripper. He has started a fledgling company, which crafts handmade furniture.

One day, Mike receives a phone call and is lured to a faux funeral. It turns out that the remaining members of the Kings of Tampa just happen to be passing through town. The boys are headed to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where they plan to strut their stuff at a male strippers convention, organized by Paris (Elizabeth Banks).  Before they go, they want to see their old buddy, Mike.

Will Mike reunite with the Kings of Tampa? Nah – Mike tells them he’s moved on. He insists that he’s committed to his business.

That night, Mike hears the tune, “Pony” playing on Spotify. Suddenly, he’s dancing up a storm in his workshop. The lure of resuming life as an exotic male dancer proves irresistible to Mike.

Mike hooks up with his erstwhile sidekicks from the Kings of Tampa. Rounding out the quintet are Big Dick Richie (yep, played by Joe Manganiello, that is really the character’s name); Tarzan (Kevin Nash), a towering 610’ giant, with long flowing locks and a beard; a pretty-boy aspiring vocalist, Ken (Matt Bomer); and the token non-Anglo, Tito (Adam Rodriguez).

After years of being typecast as a himbo in a series meretricious rom coms, McConaughey has staged a big career comeback. Courtesy of well-regarded performances in “Bernie,” “Mud,” and his Oscar-winning role in “The Dallas Buyers Club,” he has reinvented himself as a serious actor. You won’t see him reprising his role in this sequel.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from "Magic Mike XXL," in theaters on July 1. (Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from “Magic Mike XXL,” in theaters on July 1. (Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Similarly MIA are the likes Brooke (Cody Horn), Mike’s jealous girlfriend, and her younger brother, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who Mike was supposed to be mentoring. So all these storylines associated with these characters are eliminated. The sequel also eliminates the economic imperative, which had compelled Mike to become a stripper in the original.

How does this film fill the narrative void? Well – there’s a feisty young woman, Zoe (Amber Heard), who sees Mike micturating on the beach. This sparks some contentious badinage between them. Do you think that the relationship might eventually turn amorous? Then, there’s Big Dick Richie, who meets Joan, (Andie MacDowell), a woman who indicates that she’s never had sex with anyone but her husband. Will she become the one, who breaks Riche’s dry spell? En route to Myrtle Beach, Mike stops off at a club in Savannah, run by his ex-flame, Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), It poses as an upscale entertainment venue. However, it actually functions as a bordello, where post-menopausal females can achieve sexual wish fulfillment with younger men for a price.

In addition to Big Dick Richie, there’s another character named Tori Snatch. That is reflective of this film’s level of subtlety.

Being without any compelling storylines or engaging characters, “Magic Mike” has a lot of time to fill in. It does so with a surfeit of pelvic thrusting and simulated sex between muscular men and not-so-attractive women. What makes the film even more unbearable is that between the dance sequences, we have to endure hearing these male strippers proffer pontifications about the meaning of life.

“Magic Mike” was a decent film. This sequel is not. The fall off between the two films is astonishing.

It would be easy to blame it on the new director, Gregory Jacobs. The latter has only directed two obscure films, “Criminal” and “Wind Chill.” His main claim to fame is as a second unit director to Soderbergh on numerous vehicles, including “Magic Mike.”

However, it turns out that Soderbergh was always on the set, working as the film’s cinematographer under his pseudonym, Peter Andrews. So, I remain at a loss to understand how this film could end up being so much worse that its precursor.

“Magic Mike XXL” is a tawdry affair, devoid of the slightest scintilla of redeeming artistic merit. There is absolutely no magic in it.

* R (for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use) 115 minutes. Warner Brothers

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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