When you use “XXL” in the title of a movie about male strippers, certain promises are made. But if Magic Mike XXL is bulging with anything, it’s inane conversation. The rating system warns of strong sexual content and nudity, and those elements are present and accounted for, praise the Lord. But before you get to the good stuff — I mean the really good stuff — you have to sit through a lot of jabbering about stripper betrayal, plans for dance routines that reveal the soul of the man under the rip-away pants, the merits of operating a frozen yogurt food truck and how all a woman really needs is a night with an adult entertainer to get right with the world. That last part may be true, but if you’re going to make the argument, show, don’t tell.
Magic Mike XXL arrives in theaters minus two of the original film’s biggest assets: director Steven Soderbergh and Matthew McConaughey, who played charismatic emcee Dallas in the first movie (Alex Pettyfer, who played Mike’s protege Adam, is not missed). Fortunately Everyone’s Boyfriend Channing Tatum is back as Mike, as charming and limber as ever, but both absences are felt. Director Gregory Jacobs is no substitute for Soderbergh, which leaves the movie foundering in terms of pace and substance (the dialogue is pretty embarrassing, too). McConaughey and his waxed chest are replaced by Jada Pinkett Smith. No disrespect to her, but the last thing this franchise needs is another love interest, especially one who uses the word “queens” in her introductions to the audience the way E.L. James writes “inner goddess” in Fifty Shades of Grey.
The plot, such as it is, follows the further adventures of the former Kings of Tampa, who are now leaderless. At loose ends, the guys are on their way to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach for one last big tsunami of singles. Before you start packing and checking Expedia for a hotel, know that there is no such convention there. I know. I already looked.
Anyway, they stop to see Mike, who has started his own custom furniture business just like he promised he would at the end of the first movie. He has no intention of joining them, but then that night he’s working late, and Spotify serves up Ginuwine’s Pony, and pretty soon he’s writhing around his workshop full of dangerous implements, making everyone in the theater sweaty and delirious. Next thing you know, he’s joining his bros for his own final shot at stripper greatness.
I’m not going to lie: The last couple of performances at that convention are beautiful to behold, even if I have to wonder whether women would really enjoy being dragged around what is probably a filthy stage floor (By Channing Tatum? Probably). But there’s too much slogging to get to those glorious moments. There’s a detour to Pinkett Smith’s upscale, subscription-only strip club, where, yes, there is some bumping and grinding, but also Donald Glover rapping off-the-cuff poetry to a patron so she will feel special. No singles for you, Donald. A second stop lands the guys at the house of a bunch of randy, middle-aged women, and everybody engages in lame banter, and Mike reconnects with some girl he met on the beach (another would-be love interest even less intriguing than Pinkett Smith, who at least has some style). Also, Matt Bomer sings to one of the sexually unhappy ladies, a harbinger of bad things to come. Just what we need. A clothed stripper warbling Bryan Adams. This doesn’t make me feel special, just irritated.
Reid Carolin, who also wrote the first movie, doesn’t really know what to do with his characters and tries too hard to make them interesting when they’re off stage. He knows enough to throw us a tease or two early on, like Joe Manganiello grinding around a convenience store to the Backstreet Boys, an unexpected pleasure indeed. Here’s the thing, though: Manganiello’s character — whose nickname refers to a legendary piece of his anatomy — is dancing in this crappy shop to get his mojo back by winning a smile from a grouchy cashier. I’ll buy that he may not be sure of how to create the new dance moves Mike is calling for. But you, me and Sofia Vergara all know there is no way this guy is tortured by insecurity.
But that’s the tease of Magic Mike XXL: It promises delights it takes too long to deliver. You can, if you must, take away the fireman act, the sexy cop uniforms, the military whites from the first movie and try to persuade us strippers have creative souls, too. After that? Just shut up and dance.
Cast: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gabriel Iglesias, Donald Glover.
Director: Gregory Jacobs.
Screenwriter: Reid Carolin.
A Warner Bros release. Running time: 115 minutes. Strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Playing at area theaters.