Friday, July 03, 2015

the magic is gone

Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" of 2012 remains an unexpected, disarming film, a modest movie shot on a shoestring budget and something of a labor of love for its star, Channing Taum, who turned a part of his fascinating past into a charming male fantasy.

Soderbergh built the film around his star’s easy-going personality and laid-back acting style.  It has the appeal of a 1970s Burt Reynolds lark (hence, the clever use of the Warner Bros. logo from the ‘70s), only it’s not about a trucker or a moonshiner but about a male stripper.

The inevitable sequel, unfortunately titled “Magic Mike XXL” and directed by Soderbergh’s long-time assistant director Gregory Jacobs, makes the mistake of disposing of the very elements that make the original irresistible, most jarringly the film’s anchor – Matthew McConaughey, so mesermizing as the incorrigible strip-club entrepreneur and player, Dallas.

But also missing, and equally important, are Alex Pettyfer, who (shades of "All About Eve" here) played Eve Harrington to Tatum's Margo Channing, and the soothing Cody Horn, much missed as Tatum's love interest and the one recognizable character with whom audiences could easily identify.

All that remains is Tatum’s improvisational-style acting, which becomes tiresome this time around. “Magic Mike XXL,” which chronicles a weekend road trip by Tatum and company to an expansive “male entertainment” conference in Myrtle Beach, Florida, consists of little else but the guys hanging out, making non-stop (and amusingly self-important) small talk.

And this small talk (very small) goes on and on and on, ad infinitum.

It ... never ... stops.


The actors who were merely in the background of the original film are now front and center and none of them is interesting. They talk about their long-delayed plans for a different life (who cares?) and how their work as “male entertainers” empowers women.  They “heal” the poor ladies, see?

The dances in the original film, all staged in a club setting, were indeed dances.  In “Magic Mike XXL,” there are no dances, per se, just choreographed sex acts in which the guys interact with willing fans, simulating intercourse.  It’s porno set to hip-hop sounds.

And it's staged not in clubs, but in living rooms, kitchens and even convenience stores - wherever the boys can find a panting fan.

It makes sense that none of these routines is a dance in the strict sense of the word because, except for Tatum, none of the actors playing dancers in the film can actually dance.  They merely undulate, thrusting their pelvic regions occasionally and flailing their arms.  They "dance" mostly with their arms. The best that Big Dickie Rich (Joe Manganiello) can do, for example, is to conjure up an erection and an exploding ejaculation with the help of a bottle of sparkling water. You know, high school stuff. (One clueless scribe called "Magic Mike XXL" a "musical" in his review. Huh?)

And all of this is interactive, with obliging women (too many of them stereotypically, tellingly overweight) invited to have chocolate syrup smeared over and licked off their inner thighs and to literally have a buff guy’s asshole pushed against their noses. All of which is too grotesque to be even remotely sexy. One has to wonder if these "dances" are more uncomfortable for the performer or the fan being happily mauled.

The women in the audiences, meanwhile - and there are seemingly thousands of them - are presented as desperate, pathetic, sex-starved morons.  And of the “name” actresses here - among them, Andie McDowell, Elizabeth Banks and Amber Herd - only Jada Pinkett Smith seems to be having fun with her leering, Barry White-style elocutions.

It's a bit illogical and amazing that, given the sexed-up nature of the material on hand, "Magic Mike XXL" is such a numbing bore.

Note in Passing: Soderbergh photographed the film (under his usual pseudonym "Peter Andrews") and also edited it (as "Mary Ann Bernard").  Given that he must have been on the set all the time, one has to wonder why he simply didn’t direct it as well.  Oh, right, he's retired from directing.


Sherry L said...

Very disappointing. Loved the first one but sequel is typically terrible. Still can't figure out if it's supposed to be a joke. If so, not funny and as you said, demeaning to women. And men too, for that matter.

Brian Lucas said...

Just saw the film. I had the same reaction that I had to the first one. Why wasn't at least one of the guys gay? Would there be a gay guy among the dancers? Instead we get all of these apparently hetero guys bonding over the erotic dancing they do. It would have been interesting to have a guy with a different perspective. Just sayin'

joe baltake said...

Sherry L. & Brian Lucas- Good points from both of you. Thanks!

Barry L. said...

I missed Olivia Munn. I had hoped she would show up.

Sherry L. said...

Me, too, Barry!

marvin said...

Joe, I haven't seen MAGIC MIKE XXL yet (don't know whether or not I will). Really laughed at your review of the film. Marvin

Kiki said...

I saw the trailer to this and asked myself, "Why?" "The Full Monty" was - what? - 20 years ago. And it was such a wonderful story with terrific actors, so why this? Then, I started thinking - this is when Andie MacDowell showed up in the trailer - "Maybe this is a really old movie because Andie looks exactly the same." I know the Chippendales still get women to act stupidly at the show they've done for 40 years on, but I never understood the allure of men shaking their bits at me.

Alex said...

I noticed that one of the dancers in the movie doesn't dance at all - Kevin Nash, the guy who plays Tarzan. His scene in the climatic club scene is hilarious because all he does do a glitter painting while wearing a speedo.

joe baltake said...

Yeah, I caught that, too. Sort of like Jeff Richards, the only non-dancing brother in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." He mostly stands on the sidelines while the other guys to ligament-straining dance moves.

Beef said...

Your description of the movie as a "numbing bore" is apt! I could handle a "loosely plotted" road movie if the characters were at least interesting, but, as you noted, that's NOT the case here. I actually thought that the big finale might "liven things up," but it was the stupidest part of the movie!! And the overblown enthusiasm of the onscreen audience to the very lame "strip" routines made it even more ridiculous. The film appears to be a bit of a flop (probably due to bad word-of-mouth)--and deservedly so.

joe baltake said...

A bit of a flop? Beef, it took in less than $12-million which, within the axis of Hollywood and Vine, is something of a trainwreck. That said, you nailed it!

Charlotte said...

Joe- I wish you would review more contemporary films. I've tried to figure out how you are different from the rest. My conclusion is that you seem more attentive, picking up on things that others don't. Review more!

Lizbeth said...

Get real, people. It's a great, great movie!