Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, USA, 2015)

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I found the trailer for Magic Mike XXL so embarrassing, I put off seeing the film until friends convinced me to. I found it much better than expected and really enjoyable. The audience was almost all women and when Channing Tatum first appears after the credits, they all went ‘Phwoar!’. And that set the tone for the film’s reception, at least with the audience I saw it with, which was almost 98% female.

It’s a very interesting film, very inclusive of difference if slightly confused and confusing as to its racial and sexual politics and, unlike the first one, one very much directed at a female gaze, with Matt Bomer thrown in as a bone to the gay audience. The story is a bit of a mess and it ends abruptly. But I didn’t mind that much. I loved the musical numbers and the way it all feels like Mickey and Judy putting on a show but veering off now towards the burlesque end of showbiz. It’s basically a musical with half naked men in which the wall-flowers get to dance with the prom king whilst gay men are invited to cheer on through scenes in gay bars and Channing Tatum’s character admitting a drag name, even if it is something like Clitoris Labia or some such, and the bodies of course. But it’s all sexless, pretend, ironic and knowing, but earnest too; just like the old musicals but without as much dancing, which is a pity, as the only moment the film seems to really take off and fly into a zone approaching greatness is that moment where Channing Tatum gets taken over by the music and dances with his tools in the shed – it’s really thrilling to see.

The film is very knowing and rather sophisticated in its range of references: Carmen Miranda, the boys camping it up in a vogue-ing contest referencing both Madonna AND Paris is Burning, Joe Manganiello commenting on vampires in The Twilight Saga rather than True Blood, etc. It looks as neon bright as the original with striking and original visual imagery (Steven Soderbergh is the cinematographer); The cast are all adequate but it’s only Bomer who gives any sense of a characterisation: a has-been actor with fading looks and with his only claim to fame working at Disneyworld and a few local commercials, now caught up in new-age philosophies (or crackpot theories) as a way of keeping at bay something that’s dying inside. You can imagine him starring in gay porn the year after the film is set. As to the rest…Andie MacDowell’s loosened up a bit as she’s gotten older but she’s still the worst thing in the film though mercifully she’s not on for long. Joe Manganiello finally gets the part he was denied in the first film though doesn’t bring the spark, theatricality, or star quality Matthew McConaughey brought to the original. Channing Tatum always looks like someone’s slapped him hard and he doesn’t know what to say. Only Jada Pinkett-Smith, in today’s equivalent of the old Madam-with-a-heart-of-gold role, stands out. She is dazzling (though even she has been better in Gotham).

I find it difficult to come to a conclusion as to what the film’s about other than ‘you’re ok, I’m ok, we’re all beautiful inside and we all deserve to be treated like queens no matter how we look or what’s happened to us’, all of which is pretty Oprah….but then that Channing Tatum starts to dance to an inventive choice of music (true throughout the film) and the film zooms onto another dimension. I wish it had ventured there more often but it’s a rare film that addresses a female and gay audience in as warm and delightful a manner as this one and I was happy enough to find it as entertaining as I did.

José Arroyo

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