Magic Mike XXL inverts this story in almost every particular. It’s a movie not about growing up but about recapturing youth, one in which the most cherished value is not responsibility but joy. And unlike the first film, in which considerable attention was placed on the men’s own sexual gratification—think: Matt Bomer inviting others to partake of his wife’s “tits,” or Alex Pettyfer boasting that “I can fuck who I want to fuck”—Magic Mike XXL concerns itself overwhelmingly with the pleasure they offer their female customers. In the earlier movie, these customers were treated mostly as marks, silly young women to be picked up in bars and fleeced of their spring-break money; this time out, they’re extolled as “queens” and “goddesses.”
Magic Mike XXL picks up three years after the last installment. Mike’s handmade furniture business is succeeding, but only barely, when his old Kings of Tampa buddies phone to let him know they’ll be passing through town on their way to an annual strippers convention in Myrtle Beach. I won’t give away an early joke by saying what has become of the group’s founder and M.C., Dallas (McConaughey). But suffice it to say that neither he nor “the Kid” (Pettyfer) are along for the ride.
McConaughey’s absence creates one of those tidy instances in which cinematic text and subtext are precisely aligned. In the movie, the guys are happy to be out from underneath Dallas’s domineering thumb, free to experiment with dances more personal and esoteric than the usual cop, firefighter, and construction worker. (Yes, there’s a whiff of Pitch Perfect here.) But more broadly, the lack of McConaughey gives the other, lesser known performers vastly more room to stretch and breathe. Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) were barely differentiated as characters in the original; in the sequel, they all come to individual life, with Manganiello a particular delight.
Mike—of course—agrees to join his old mates on the trip to Myrtle Beach for One Last Blowout Performance, and what follows is a road trip movie told in three distinct chapters, each lengthier than you might expect and bordering on the surreal. First, the boys visit a strip club catering mostly to women of color situated in a Savannah mansion. (Call it Ladies’ Night in the Garden of Good and Evil.) There, Mike has the opportunity to work through a little complicated history with the proprietress, Rome (an exceptionally good Jada Pinkett Smith). The next stop is a fancy Charleston home, where the fellas intend to visit a young lady, but find themselves instead spending a great deal of quality time with her mother (Andie McDowell) and said mother’s friends. Finally, there’s the Myrtle Beach convention itself, where the Kings unveil such new acts as “Romantic Painter” and “Candy Shop.” (Tucked in along the way are a nice performance by Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, and another by Elizabeth Banks, as a character who claims she “learned everything from Rome.” Her name? Paris.)