Friday, March 25, 2016

Let Them Eat Beefcake

Year: 2015
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Cast: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Typically it’s a fantastic thing if a sequel manages to recapture the spirit of the original film. So by those standards, Magic Mike XXL is a perfect movie. Unfortunately, the spirit of Magic Mike (a stripper film largely unconcerned with titillation that endeavors to tell a microcosmic story of the American economy) is pretty much the exact opposite of what the average audience member would want to see. It can be forgiven in the original, thanks to Steven Soderbergh’s sure hand, but director Gregory Jacobs (his longtime producer) is no Soderbergh*.The result is a film full of chiseled hunks in which the only thing that gets stripped off is the meaningful subtext. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

*Steven Soderbergh did shoot and edit this film, but it’s probably in his best interest to downplay his involvement. 

Boy, will we.

First, the plot. In Magic Mike XXL, Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer’s characters asked for too much money have started a show overseas, abandoning the gaggle of strapping strippers known as Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) and that title refers to his personality, not his apparatus; Tarzan (Kevin Nash), an aging, goateed hunk whose lines have doubled now that a quarter of the cast is MIA; Ken (Matt Bomer), the only LGBT character so of course he’s now some kind of sexless vegan chakra worshipper; and Tito (Adam Rodriguez), who clearly doctored his IMDb page to say he as in the first movie because I have not a scrap of memory of him. As one last hurrah, they decide to put on a show at the 2015 Stripper Convention (which everyone they meet has totally heard of, yet still has an attendance of like 80 people) and invite Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) to come along with them on their road trip to scenic Myrtle Beach.

Mike has just broken up with his girlfriend Cody Horn because, actually, what is she even up to? Why couldn’t she do this movie? He decides to come on the trip to, I don’t know, learn about himself or some crap. After their MC, Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias, for some reason) crashes their car, they must scramble to find a new MC and transportation, though they mostly just sidle through some Road Trip vignettes starring the silky smooth stripper palace madame Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith), the hospitable Southern divorc√©e Nancy (Andie MacDowell), and the most toxically obnoxious hipster trash abortive love interest this side of Dirty Grandpa, Zoe (Amber Heard).

My thoughts and prayers go out to her bracelet foley artist, because every time she moves those bohemian toothpicks she calls arms, it sounds like a f**king wind chime.

Magic Mike XXL has been described as a “hang-out movie,” which is actually pretty accurate. It exactly captures the feeling of hanging out with your older brother and his skater friends, who only tolerate each other because they all do the same thing and are too stoned to actually have anything interesting to say. Manganiello’s character is the biggest offender, because the movie seems convinced that he’s an asshole with a heart of gold when he’s really just a deranged, foul-mouthed property destroyer who should be medicated, if not actively incarcerated. Although, to be fair, he’s the only character in the film with a recognizable personality of any kind, so maybe I should lay off him.

However, Not all of the film is quite so aggravating as those early scenes where tensions rankle beneath the surface of the group for reasons nobody can quite identify. In fact, Magic Mike XXL is a fascinating study in just how empty a feature film can be despite a sprawling run time that tops two hours. All those things that typically define a work of cinema are but dust in the wind. Let’s run MMXXL through the basics, shall we, and see what we come up with.

PLOT: Although some might argue that Magic Mike XXL is the Ballad of a Soldier of Channing Tatum stripper movies, in which a charismatic young swain wanders the countryside improving the lives of people he meets along the way, those people would be fictional. Also wrong. Beyond the first act, there is not a whiff of drama or tension of any kind, and the two potentially romantic subplots are so low key that I’m fairly certain they don’t actually exist. They certainly aren’t resolved by the film’s abrupt ending, which is about as jarring as being hit by a freight train. On the moon.

DIALOGUE: You know that thing Judd Apatow does where he sets the camera down and just lets his actors riff for a bit? That seems to be how this script was written. Very scene is an endless kaleidoscope of mumbled nonsense and halfhearted improve, spiced up by such sterling clunkers as “It’s not bro time, it’s showtime.”

ACTING: It’s not like the script provides much to work with, but every performer seems to be on the verge of passing out. I genuinely admire Channing Tatum (especially in comedies), but he indiscriminately disappoints here, slurring every scene like he just ate a peanut butter sandwich and is trying to lick it off the roof of his mouth. Also, an allegedly comedic drug freak out scene is so underplayed that I was beginning to think I made up the whole thing.

STRIPPING: You know what I love about male strippers? How they never take their pants off. Now, look, I’ve made my peace with the fact that these actors are too successful in their careers to actually whip it out on camera, but in half the performances they don’t even take off their jeans! They must have taken their stripping cues from the movie Burlesque (which couldn’t even be bothered to look up “burlesque” in the dictionary), because nowhere in my universe does strip show  involve a man just taking off his shirt, maybe singing poorly, and then going home.

Oh, also the acts last about ten seconds each, are poorly lit, poorly staged, and very infrequently crop up in the first place. Also, certain performers who shall remain nameless are a tad rusty on their dance moves, and the movie’s keen avoidance of showing them perform only serves to highlight how little he’s actually doing. The producers should refund all the bachelorette parties that made the mistake of going to see this movie in the theaters.

CHARACTERS:

Eh, who needs ‘em?

What I have described thus far is a supremely drab movie. And that’s a very apt description, but there is a certain key factor I’ve neglected to share: When Magic Mike XXL gets going, it is a hilarious titan of crummy filmmaking. Somewhere around the halfway point, when the gang visits Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Pleasure Palace, the film adopts a supposedly reverential tone of female affirmation that goes so wildly awry that it’s magnificently captivating.

Let’s pause a moment and bask in the glory that is Jada’s Xanadu. Shirtless men give lap dances to teeming hordes of women in multiple lushly appointed rooms while they toss an infinite supply of dollar bills in the air like it’s a ticker tape parade. Rome the MC bounces through the rooms at her whim like a pinball, constantly interrupting performances to make loquacious pronouncements to her beaming bevy of “queens” and selecting one lucky, self-conscious lady to be reminded she is beautiful. This is always the skinniest girl in the room. 

They are then treated with some arrestingly bad shirtless improve rap from Childish Gambino himself (Donald Glover, who in all fairness is rather talented in real life and proves as much in a later musical number. …This movie has so many musical numbers, you guys.) after being asked the exquisitely inane question, “What is your favorite thing?” People apparently shell out the big bucks for this.

This overboiled, garish phantasmagoria so thoroughly misunderstands eroticism that it might just be a masterpiece of dream logic cinema. The otherworldly delights give way to Andie MacDowell’s delightful turn as a salty Southern belle with a preposterous drawl, in which she and her Sex and the City gang tell tales of ex-husbands and flirt with our dear strippers. This scene is unfortunately stolen by a reaction shot of a dialogue-free woman haphazardly mouthing along to a Bryan Adams musical number that goes on about two minutes too long, but MacDowell’s absurd, molasses-accented charisma makes this the best scene in the entire affair.

She’s like Scarlett O’Hara meets Gomer Pyle, and we’re all the better for it.

Now a film this dull can’t be totally saved by a healthy dose of diva mayhem, but it can certainly be elevated. Never forget Magic Mike XXL’s pornish editing in which conversations abruptly fade to the same conversation at a random, equally inconsequential point. Or its oddly profuse use of profanity, which is ever used to bust taboos, but rather as an oddly dark, angry lexicon that in no way fits the movie’s tone. And there’s always that infuriatingly shallow ending that resolves absolutely nothing. However, it’s still possible to have a good time watching this though, as with its predecessor, it’s never the way you’d expect from a movie about male strippers.

TL;DR: Magic Mike XXL is a boring, tremendously inane film that has next to nothing to with with anything, let alone stripping.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1578

2 comments:

  1. Right on, Brennan. The only difference in our reactions, I think, was that I thought it was a little funnier. (Oddly, what I must assume was one of your least favorite parts--the Backstreet Boys bit--was, for my money, so good it deserved to be in an entirely different movie. Love that Big Dick Richie.)

    Also: I'm glad to have it confirmed for me that this movie's attempt at pandering is unbelievably weak. I was pretty sure this was the case, but your perspective convinces me I was right. (And, like you said, it's so bizarrely patronizing to its avowed target audience, straight women, that I have to imagine they'd enjoy it even less.)

    Which one's dance moves were rusty? It wasn't Tatum, was it? I thought he was pretty good (in the, you know, two times he does anything in the movie, where we can also actually see him).

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    1. I do agree that the convenience store sequence was one of the strongest in the movie, but literally all I could think about was that somebody was going to have to clean that up.

      And no sir, Channing Tatum is as fleet-footed as ever. The dancer I singled out was Matt Bomer, who I think shimmies his shoulders a total of two times in the movie and that's the end of that.

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