Magic Mike XXL (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

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Mike's dream came true, but only for a little while.  His girlfriend is gone, he runs his business alone, and his dancing days seem like they're from another lifetime.  But when his old stripping crew comes back into town they pull him out of retirement for one last gig.  Gregory Jacobs directs and Reid Carolin writes Magic Mike XXL.  Channing Tatum, Amber Heard, Andie MacDowell, and Jada Pinkett Smith star.

How does it feel

"There's always a queen up in here who must be reminded how beautiful she is."

So says Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), the most interesting character of Magic Mike XXL, in the pleasure palace where she makes her living.  It's not a sex house, if only because what she offers is a lot more important than sex.  What she sells Mike (Channing Tatum), and the rest of his reunited crew, is the importance of fantasy.  She doesn't sell the sex, but sells the possibility of sex and how to dangle it ever so slightly in front of her clients.

This is Magic Mike XXL's centerpiece, and functions as a mission statement behind the considerable pleasure of watching the film.  Sure, Mike and his crew are interested in grabbing the glory at the stripper convention in Myrtle Beach.  But what what's amazing about Magic Mike XXL is how subtly it shifts from what men want, to what women want.  Sure the male ego gets in the way from time to time, but the ultimate focus is how women should be treated - no matter their age, skin color, or economic class.

If I'm gushing about Magic Mike XXL a bit prematurely - well, it's just that kind of movie.  It's a testament to the skill of Gregory Jacobs' film that this unabashed love letter / fantasy for women is accessible to anyone who decides to watch.  The energy and pure joy of Magic Mike XXL is damn near palpable, and I was grinning ear to ear watching Mike and crew try to make the lives of the women they meet just a bit better.  Magic Mike XXL just goes to show that it doesn't matter what a movie is about but how it's about it, and with the warmth and humor on display it could convince anyone of the magic of male stripping.

Deep, luscious colors fuel the best scenes of Magic Mike XXL.

Deep, luscious colors fuel the best scenes of Magic Mike XXL.

The general plot of Magic Mike XXL is almost as old as cinema, and is something of a retread of the original Magic Mike.  It's the standard "One last job before we retire" which has fueled the artistic likes of Rififi or Bob le Flambeur.  So if it's a good starting point for those cinematic classics, why not for a movie about male strippers?  Jacobs and his cohorts behind-the-scenes make the case with an exquisite run of visual storytelling.  With Steven Soderbergh handling the cinematography and editing, there was little chance Magic Mike XXL could go wrong.

It clearly didn't, as two scenes early in Magic Mike XXL cement the visual bona fides.  Mike, resigned to a fate of menial labor, hears a song which puts his hips back into the swing of things.  In an excellent and symbolically loaded dance sequence, he sparks off a metallic member before grinding away on the wood of his shop.  Filmed with Tatum's body in full view almost the entire time, his sensual movements make for a great contrast to the balsa wood surrounding him.  Then, in a beautifully lit scene, Mike meets Zoe (Amber Heard), and while their intentions for one another are badly communicated they are lit the same way.  As they talk they are half in shadow and half in light, never getting a full glimpse of one another, and never really understanding what it is the other is searching for.

Which brings me back to that amazing pleasure house sequence.  In all honesty, I have not seen any movement of any film in 2015 as excellently executed as the moments in the pleasure house.  Deep purples, swaths of red, and a bit of yellow among the business deals - all thrown together with a tight soundtrack and great dancers.  Mike finds his muse again, but more importantly the women in the house find a moment of joy.  It all culminates in an absolutely wonderful moment where Andre (a great Donald Glover) descends like an angel from the staircase to lead the crowd in singing a song for a recent divorcee.

I don't know if the Marx Brothers envisioned their routine being used like this, but it creates just about as many smiles and laughs.

I don't know if the Marx Brothers envisioned their routine being used like this, but it creates just about as many smiles and laughs.

That moment crystallizes the beauty of Magic Mike XXL, and builds on it in a later sequence where Nancy (Andie MacDowell) makes her sexual intentions known toward the accurately named Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello).  Think, for a moment, about the last time you saw a movie which treated the sexual needs of a woman over 40 as an important thing.  It's telling that the two only examples which spring to my mind are the painfully exposed John Cassavettes film Faces, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  This puts Magic Mike XXL in a rare category of films which are interested in addressing this need at all.

Sometimes it's addressed with a warm heart, like when Big Dick Richie performs an impromptu stripping routine for a convenience store clerk with his only goal to make her smile.  I love this moment, because the other men in his crew enthusiastically egg him on from behind the window and explode into happiness when she finally smiles.  Other times there's a hint of sadness and relief, as when one of Nancy's friends looks at the strippers with a sense of longing she knows will fade away when she goes back to her normal life.

It's this tinge of sadness which makes Magic Mike XXL greater than the sum of its aesthetically pleasing parts.  This really is one last ride for Mike and the gang, but it's not the end of their lives or those of anyone who they meet.  We can't all age like Jack Palance or Eartha Kitt.  But the routine in movies is to focus on the former and less on the latter.  To paraphrase one of Zoe's lines, thank God for men in thongs and Magic Mike XXL, because we get to see what great entertainment can come by focusing on the latter.

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Tail - Magic Mike XXLMagic Mike XXL (2015)

Directed by Gregory Jacobs.
Written by Reid Carolin.
Starring Channing Tatum, Amber Heard, Andie Macdowell, and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Posted by Andrew

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