“Magic Mike XXL,” as the title indicates, is a sequel that fits looser than the original. It’s a film built to showcase Channing Tatum’s charm as the titular stripper, a man who, as another character wisely surmises, “doesn’t need an introduction.”
Mike decides to take a vacation from running his ugly furniture business and joins some old familiars on a “fro-yo” truck pilgrimage to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach and a long weekend of “swamp country debauchery.”
Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Richie embraces his second banana status throughout, especially in a hilarious sequence in which he disowns his fireman strip routine (it turns out he’s pyrophobic) and improvises an irresistible, MDMA-fueled gas station dance to the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”
We all miss Dallas, the leathery impresario played in the earlier film by Matthew McConaughey (as one survivor says, “Don’t say his name, don’t give him that power”). Replacement MC Gabriel Iglesias aping his trademark saying “All right all right all right” is what they call a fall from grace.
But “Magic Mike XXL” is full of glittering moments, like a throwaway line by the stripper-songwriter played by Donald Glover, “We’re like healers,” which feels simultaneously absurd and well-earned. Watching Mike twirl over his work bench to Ginuwine’s “Pony” could generate spontaneous applause from the hardest heart. Zoe (Amber Heard), Mike’s love interest on the road, lacks the curled lip insouciance of Cody Horn in the previous film but is still a willing banterer.
While nominally directed by Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh’s longtime AD, the film is shot and edited by Soderbergh’s pseudonyms and bears every resemblance to his best work. Whoever the real director is, he builds to an incredible climax, where jaw-dropping crane camerawork of cathartic dance routines is intercut with close-ups of the off kilter intimacy between Mike and Zoe. The great visuals match an insightful truth stated earlier in the film: We value beauty more than freedom.
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“Magic Mike XXL” is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated R. Running time 1:55. Visit www.cinemawest.com.