I’ll never forget my original Magic Mike experience. In a packed cinema of some 750 people, I was one of just nine men, and of those, (probably) the only straight one. After a brief welcome, the film's promoters introduced two male strippers who danced, disrobed and lap-danced their way through the crowd like bejewelled beagles at Customs, singling out the most awkward and uncomfortable with astounding accuracy. Coupled with the trailer, everything seemed in place for a movie designed to entertain everyone but me, and yet — two hours later — I stood both corrected and utterly entertained.
Armed with that memory, I approached Magic Mike XXL with a much more open mind, only to once again be surprised by a film whose suggestive marketing, racy trailer and heck, even its name, belied a film of far greater substance and maturity. Magic Mike XXL is not a story about male
strippers entertainers, but an old-fashioned road movie about self-discovery and friendship, where it is souls and vulnerabilities — not bodies — that the men are dared to reveal. As it happens, it's also a cracking comedy.
The story itself is as scant as a stripper’s costume. Mike (Channing Tatum, whose real life story provided the inspiration for both films), finds himself visited by his old dancing buddies on their way to the annual 4th of July Strippers Convention (yes, it’s a thing). Their former emcee and manager has skipped town with the young star Adam, meaning this is to be their swan song before retiring to whatever 'normal' jobs they can find. Recently single and finding his own furniture business low on the thrills, Mike joins them in the hope of purging his demons and starting life afresh.
In some ways, it’s best to think of Magic Mike XXL like a musical, given the way its stars spontaneously burst into dance routines and, this time round, singing (showcasing the talents of both Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, and Matt Bomer, whose voice is so remarkable it’s baffling we’ve not been treated to it sooner). Unlike most musicals, however, Magic Mike XXL navigates the almost impossible transition from acting to dancing without it ever feeling forced — the best example also being the film’s standout scene, featuring Joe Manganiello (True Blood) stripping in a gas station to a Backstreet Boys staple for no other reason than to elicit a smile from its store clerk. Funny yet provocative, childish yet heartwarming, it encapsulates everything Magic Mike XXL is about: honest desire, spiritual growth and — most importantly — intimacy.
Almost every dance in this film is centred on one woman. Any woman. Every woman. No matter how large the crowd, someone is always singled out and treated to a publicly private performance, "a queen being reminded of her beauty", as Mike’s former flame Rome (played magnificently by Jada Pinkett Smith) puts it. Yes, the dancing is extraordinary (Tatum’s routines in particular are jaw-dropping in their athleticism and eroticism), but just as appealing are the ladies’ reactions — a blend of shock, lust and pure exhilaration that imbue each and every fantasy piece with a genuine sense of realism.
There’s more sensuality in this film than fifty Fifty Shades of Greys, yet it never once feels sleazy, instead veering closer to something uplifting and sincere. By all means come for the bodies, but stay for everything else.