The original "Magic Mike" is commonly and pejoratively dismissed as a "male stripper movie." In fact, it is really a picture about the American dream on life support in the 21st century, and an existential depiction of what it's like when the sun comes up and you find yourself running in place at a job you hate.
Make no mistake, "Magic Mike XXL," the sequel now in theaters, is a male stripper movie. The fancy character-driven economic pretense is flushed away in favor of abs, abs and more abs.
It's a lesser picture than the predecessor for that reason, but it affirms the indisputable truth that one can't help but like a movie that has Joe Manganiello performing a gymnastic striptease in a convenience store to the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way."
Steven Soderbergh, director of the 2012 flick, mans editing and cinematography duties here, with his longtime assistant director Gregory Jacobs taking the helm.
The story follows Mike (Channing Tatum), out of the life and running a furniture business, as he reunites with his remaining buddies from the Tampa show and sets off on a road trip to, hilariously, a Fourth of July strippers' convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The journey involves side trips to a Georgia mansion that's been transformed into a luxe, interactive strip club (complete with seductive lighting and a gyrating Michael Strahan), a visit with middle-aged ladies (including Andie MacDowell) and antics that are utterly immaterial as anything but thinly-disguised excuses to get the guys down to their skivvies as quickly as possible.
This is an exploitation picture with a welcome dash of female empowerment, as embodied by Jada Pinkett Smith's Rome, an MC who conveys a keen awareness of the power dynamic between the performers and clientele as a welcome reversal of the norm.
Soderbergh shoots the movie with an eye for '70s zooms and expressionistic touches that undercut the simplistic surface, including a beach scene meet cute cloaked in almost total darkness and sweeping camera movements that brings a level of gravitas to what is really aggressively silly material about sexy men hanging out together and stripping.
If few viewers went to the original megahit for the cinematic touches, even fewer will attend this sequel for them. And that's fine. Hollywood has spent enough time objectifying women. Why not return the favor?