If you want a picture of the future, imagine Channing Tatum grinding his crotch in a human face, forever.
You think I exaggerate? Between this cringe-worthy jamboree of dimbulb manflesh (and that of the first film, which wasn’t even this embarrassing) and Fifty Shades of Grey’s celebration of abuse as romantic, Hollywood has gotten a warped idea about What Women Want. Expect more of it, soon. Because plenty women have embraced these things. (Magic Mike earned $167 million worldwide on a paltry budget of $7 million. XXL will do at least as well, because there’s nothing audiences love more than More Of The Same.) I console myself with the thought that we women are so unused to being catered to by The Movies that so many of us welcome even distorted attempts at it. Like how black audiences embrace Tyler Perry’s minstrel shows.
Or else I’m just extra weird, and I need to add to the list of ladyness I am doing wrong. Maybe women really do want this stuff, and I am a failure at performing my gender. I don’t find Christian Grey’s antics romantic. I don’t find Channing Tatum appealing. And I don’t understand why random men taking their clothes off in front of a crowd in public is automatically sexy. If anything, Magic Mike XXL is an unintentional parody of Sexy(TM), an unwitting sendup of caricatures of men and women and sex and attraction that so much of pop culture — including advertising! — is built on. But we’re meant to swallow this straight-faced and unconditionally. We don’t see a lot of evidence for it here, but if Tatum’s (Jupiter Ascending, 22 Jump Street) Mike really is the talented furniture designer we’re supposed to accept him as, that would be sexy. Creativity is attractive. The talent to make something useful and beautiful is very attractive. Grinding your crotch in the face of a woman you don’t know on a stage while hoards of screaming women watch and throw cash at you is icky. And sad. And definitely not sexy.
But maybe that’s just me.
Oh, and let’s not even get into how the male strippers here aren’t as naked as women in movies that aren’t even about stripping generally are. Even playing at being Sexy(TM), this movie is still blind — maybe deliberately, maybe accidentally — to the differences in how Hollywood treats men and women in this regard. If male nudity without any context of character or situation is meant to appeal to women, then why aren’t the men nude?
Not that I need to see Channing Tatum’s penis. That wouldn’t make me like this movie any more. But still.
I wonder if screenwriter Reid Carolin, returning from Magic Mike, read my review of the first film, because many of my complaints about it — like how it all but ignored women, and couldn’t even be cheesy about dudes stripping — appear to have been addressed. Though not in ways that make XXL any more interesting or entertaining, so probably I have continued to be unheeded in my time. The cheese-factor has been ramped up considerably, and much of that results in “humor” that isn’t funny, and much that is downright undignified, like how the new routines the “Kings of Tampa” develop for their last-hurrah performance are the stuff of bad amateur porn: an ice-cream man who wants to lick chocolate sauce off your thighs; a groom who ends your wedding by strapping you into a sex harness. (See? Cuz all women fantasize about getting married!) The nods to how women react to men stripping ranges from the inexplicable — Jada Pinkett Smith (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, The Women) as the Kings’ MC asking women audiences if they are ready to be “worshipped,” which doesn’t make any sense; the audiences are worshipping the male strippers — to the utterly mansplainy, as in the scene in which two men discuss why (they imagine) women like male strippers.
There isn’t much of a story here: what there is is all cliché, half “one last job,” half “hey kids let’s put on a show,” as the guys travel to a stripper convention (ugh) before disbanding for reasons that we never understand, especially since they all seem to love it so much. In the place of story, we get phallic power tools, a man (Joe Manganiello: Sabotage, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) lamenting the unfortunate large size of his cock (XXL is a tragedy, yo), and strip shows by men who aren’t even marginally “characters” like Tatum and Co. are. (In case this matters, neither Matthew McConaughey nor Alex Pettyfer return from the first film. You’ll have to settle for Matt Bomer [Winter’s Tale, In Time] and Adam Rodriguez. Director Steven Soderbergh doesn’t return, either, so you can’t even pretend this is anything other than a lame, half-assed retread cash-in.) Cameras could have been set up in a Chippendales club and you’d be none the wiser. If that’s your cup of tea, you might enjoy this. But I expect more from my movies… and from my men. Especially from my fantasy men. You wanna turn me on? Land a rover on Mars. Or make a great piece of art. And keep your clothes on until we’re alone.