Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
I wish there were a word for "experimental fluff," because that's what "Magic Mike XXL" is. It's a new kind of critic-proof movie. You could rightly describe it as "two hours of Channing Tatum and other hunky guys bonding, flirting with women, and doing bump-and-grind dance routines" and not be wrong, and yet it's made with such aesthetic playfulness that I expect it to generate graduate theses with titles like, "Breakaway Pantomimes: 'Magic Mike' and Commodified Desire."
The film is directed by Gregory Jacobs, a longtime assistant director to "Magic Mike" director Steven Soderbergh, and co-produced by Soderbergh, who also shot and edited the movie under pseudonyms. It's quite deliberately about as close to a non-movie as a movie can be while still calling itself a movie. At times it feels like the beefiest and least douchebro-pandering episode of "Entourage" ever. Tatum's Mike and the remaining Kings of Tampa—Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez)—pile into a yogurt truck and drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to compete at a strippers' convention. "We got a tsunami of dollar bills to get to, daddy," exclaims Mike, in a tone that makes it sound as though they're about to storm the beach at Normandy.
That's all there is in the way of story. And this is by design. "Magic Mike XXL" is what your English teacher would call a picaresque narrative, or perhaps a comic epic. Mike is the captain of the S.S. Bananahammock, trying to lead his crew of gyrators and lady-pleasurers toward one last big, long, wide hurrah, before they go their separate ways and join the "respectable" world. They're rock-hard, oiled-up sailors, the truck is their vessel, the American South is their river or perhaps their wine-dark sea. The film could have been titled "Homeboy's Odyssey," or "Beestunglips Now." All that's missing is narration by Mike, periodically interrupted by drags on a joint and moments where he tries to remember what point he was trying to make.
En route to Myrtle Beach, Mike and company go places and meet people and have (often comically) erotic adventures. These set pieces feel geographically self-contained, as if every nightclub or private home were sequestered on its own island. The boys visit a gay strip club and somewhat lackadaisically compete onstage, then unwind at an all-night beach party. They stop by a next-generation strip club run by Mike's old flame Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), who styles herself as a goddess-queen of desire, overseeing a mostly black male crew of strippers catering to a predominantly black female clientele. At one point the Kings drop in at a woodland house that looks a bit like a former plantation and interrupt a party of middle-aged ladies, hosted by Andie MacDowell (of Soderbergh's "sex, lies, and videotape"); when she mentions that she's only ever had sex with one man in her life, her husband, you just know that one of Mike's guys will help her out with that. (The guest is supposed to give the host a gift, y'all!)