Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, 2015)

As one of the few lone wolf auteurs left in Hollywood (although he's apparently on sabbatical from directing), Steven Soderbergh infused the wieners and buns show Magic Mike (2012) with a New Hollywood respectability in defiance of the increased franchising of mainstream cinema.  But Hollywood can't leave a hit alone so now Magic Mike is itself another franchise. And where the first one aspired to Scorsese and Altman, Magic Mike XXL (directed by Gregory Jacobs although some already believe Soderbergh moved beyond his DP and editor roles here into directing some, if not many, scenes) harkens back to the "let's put on a show" corniness of the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney franchise. It's Bring It On to Magic Mike's The Break-Up (with the chronology reversed) although Bring It On's skin deep encounter with racism feels weightier. With nary of buttcheek in sight (even during the stripping scenes), Magic Mike XXL is closer to High School Musical. For real.

Certainly, the meditations on our hideous economic climate remain. Mike (Channing Tatum, still gloriously mumbling) can't afford insurance for the one employee in his wobbly furniture business. With not much to lose, he joins the stripper troupe again and the first half an hour gets the respectability out of the way, namely, in the form of the male entertainers wondering about employment opportunities once the spare tires start to show. But the myriad strip routines/de facto musical numbers overwhelm the narrative such that their worries are quickly forgotten and never tied up or even addressed by the rushed ending.

That doesn't mean the film is structureless, though. The troupe visits three othered communities (circles of hell?) for a sort of extended training session that allows them to hone their routine before a climactic male dancer convention. So the story moves episodically from an unconvincing and truncated stopover at a gay bar (with Vicky Vox as emcee) through a gothic mansion where black women shower dollar bills on black strippers (including an impressive Michael Strahan) and Childish Gambino (serenading a lucky gal with his shirt unbuttoned) to a less gothic mansion where a pack of cougars led by Andie MacDowell welcome the troupe as prey.

The structure normalizes the predominately white and heterosexual younger audience at the convention. And anyone expecting cause and effect to guide you through a story should stay home. But I unreservedly recommend it to any music and/or musicals fans. This is the kind of mainstream product we get in an era when spontaneous outbursts of song are still relatively verboten and Magic Mike XXL maintains a sugar high worthy of Strike Up the Band or Summer Stock. Joe Manganiello's S/M gymnastics during NIN's "Closer" are astonishing (poor guy even tore a bicep on take one). The iPic theater where I caught the film last night had a remarkable sound system and I shall not soon forget the electro-high-hat rattling behind us and intensifying the gyrations. Tatum and Stephen Boss transform the Marx Brothers' mirror gag from Duck Soup into a porny fantasia. And yet it's all glossed over with an "aw shucks" innocence which suggests the classical era of Hollywood has never been over. Even the end credits breeze by like it's 1965 (1935?). I haven't been so giddy in a movie theatre since, well, Bring It On.