Mike loses its magic

Reunion: (clockwise from right) Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez in Magic Mike XXL.
Reunion: (clockwise from right) Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez in Magic Mike XXL.PHOTO: WARNER BROS

The sequel to Magic Mike is let down by cardboard characters



115 minutes/Now showing


The story: Three years after the events of the first movie, Mike (Channing Tatum) is out of the stripping game and pursuing his dream of making furniture. But the lads persuade him to return for "one last ride", to perform at a stripper convention in South Carolina so that the team can go their separate ways on a high note.

What started as a character study of a bunch of lovable losers is now teen dance competition movie Step Up but made adult-strength, for those who need that frisson of sexual objectification.

The entire third act is a frantic festival of pumping, grinding, G-strings and ear-splitting soundtrack, as if the movie itself were straining to achieve a climax, in all senses of the word.

What happened? Market research, probably. Magic Mike (2012) made some money because it was a movie about male strippers. So studio logic said that if a little stripping is good, then a lot more is better. Why think when you can pander?

Where they go wrong is in thinking that the first movie was about stripping. It was about a family; more specifically, a circus family. A motley collection of insecure, narcissistic, self-destructive drifters collected by weirdo father figure Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) find that their purpose in life is to do for women what men rarely ever do - pay attention.

Now, instead of real people, we have thumbnails, with characters literally shouting their background. In one of the most awkward roll calls in recent movie history, new guy Tito (Adam Rodriguez) screams that he is Latino, Ken (Matt Bomer, returning) is described a lily-white "Ken doll" and Richie (Joe Manganiello) is Armenian. If their personas had rough edges before, they have been smoothed over as cleanly as their hairless chests.

Every character needs motivation, so one was provided in the form of a geographic location. The men have to get from Florida to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for the Art Basel of clothes-removal performances, the imaginatively named 2015 Annual Stripper Convention.

Once the tedious business of getting everyone quite literally on the road is taken care of, director Gregory Jacobs (who was first assistant to Magic Mike helmer Steven Soderbergh) and writer Reid Carolin (who also wrote the first movie) decide to borrow the Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004) template. The middle section is a series of stonerish, mildly titillating events, featuring a half-hearted attempt at a romance between Mike (Tatum) and passer-by Zoe (Amber Heard).

Jada Pinkett Smith's sassy black mother figure replaces McConaughey's cult-leader dad and she brings much- needed, if somewhat stereotypical, black energy to the circle of bromantic love.

As strip club boss Rome, she drives home the idea that male stripping is about loving femininity, not worshipping men. The movie, however, does not trust the audience to understand its enlightened politics, so it makes her declare, over and over, that male stripping is about embracing your inner goddess, while a man is grinding his rhinestone-studded crotch sling in your face.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2015, with the headline 'Mike loses its magic'. Print Edition | Subscribe