Magic Mike XXL

Arriving at the Magic Mike XXL premiere, we were greeted by a line of shirtless men with more six-packs on display than a Dan Murphy’s on Origin night. Waiting nearby while my friend took a photo with the wall of man-muscle, it became clearer that I was somehow not the target demographic for this film.

So far, I had seen about 5,000 women, the film’s stars and maybe a dozen guys, most of whom were holding hands. I looked up at the stage and queried only for a moment why the chairs were facing away from the audience; as if the actors didn’t even plan on telling us about the movie before ripping off their clothes and demanding the almost sold-out audience have a one-way conversation with their chiselled abs.

As a group of performers took the stage and the lights dimmed it dawned on me that I had found myself in a darkened room, waiting for a bunch of men to take off their clothes. Having never been in this situation before and not sure how to react, I applauded politely as the crowd erupted around me; the men eventually picking up their gear and leaving the stage. The premiere already having given a whole new meaning to the term preview, my friend and I settled down to watch the film.

The Magic Mike sequel kicks off with its star (Channing Tatum) operating his furniture business and trying to decide if he should get back into adult entertainment. Like a well-choreographed stripper opening where it actually looks like someone’s come on stage to talk about fire-safety, the ruse lasts for a few fleeting, nudity-free moments until Mike gets back on the road with stripper mates Richie (Joe Manganiello) and Ken (Matt Bomer) amongst others.

Initially worried about his business and sole employee, Mike’s new job and so many other attempts at a plot-line are discarded like the used spray-tan bottles and tear-away pants that dutifully went into the making of this film. What started with a phenomenal allusion to Flashdance and Tatum dancing on and around half-constructed furniture loses its romantic compass, with photographer Zoe (Amber Heard) improbably popping in and out of Mike’s life. What alternately could have been a hilarious road-trip movie about guys bonding becomes a series of enjoyable encounters along the way, including a very welcome appearance from the immensely talented Donald Glover.

But none of this matters, at all, let’s not kid ourselves. This is all about the show and extended finale at a stripper convention, where Tatum spends a lot of time showing off. Magic Mike XXL gave ample screen-time to its male stars to the delight of the ecstatic crowd, so much so that a dazzled audience could easily forget that its main star was actually tragically underutilized.   One of the most multi-talented and sought-after actors in Hollywood right now, Tatum (recently cast as X-Men’s Gambit) can do comedy and can do comedy well, faring better than even Jonah Hill in the recent 22 Jump St.

There’s an obvious appeal to women but men love watching his films too – he’s a bro, a goofy, super-cool dude who doesn’t take himself too seriously and can deliver a fun two hours for almost any audience, even if he keeps his shirt on. There were many funny moments in this film (including a Twilight stage routine) and hardly any of them were written for Tatum. Scripted as a quieter, more reflective guy, the sequel could have leaped ahead of other similar films if Tatum had exercised his comedy chops rather than any other muscles for just a bit. It would have meant that the guy who got dragged along by his girlfriend, or went out of pure curiosity might have really enjoyed the sequel instead of spending two hours not looking, but looking.

A film that makes no pretensions about what it is and fully delivers on that count, stay away if you don’t want to spend the next day scraping images of dude’s chests off your retinas:

2 rock hard abs out of 6

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