'Magic Mike XXL'

Magic Mike XXL is the movie a lot of people probably expected its predecessor to be – a campy, hedonistic jaunt through the beach towns of the American South that emphasizes washboard abs and banana hammocks above all else. The original Magic Mike is one of the best and oddest surprises in recent memory. Yes, it has scantily clad gentlemen and the most unforgettable mimicry of a machine gun firing you will ever see. But it also told a totally silly and totally genuine story about friendship and getting by after the financial collapse. It managed the trick of making the non-dancing, non-Matthew McCounaghey scenes rich and enjoyable.

Perhaps in “appeasing” the crowd less interested in seeing Channing Tatum mostly naked for most of the movie, Magic Mike turned away, albeit only partially, from its core audience. Perhaps Magic Mike XXL represents a complete turn back toward them, and that’s the point of the film. If so, it’s a fine move.

It’s a basic story with familiar and beloved characters. Mike (Tatum) gets back together with his old crew, sans McCounaghey and protégé Adam (Alex Pettyfer), for a road trip to Myrtle Beach, where the plan is to go out on a high note at an annual stripping convention.

It’s impossible to complain about seeing Tatum’s aw-shucksiness charm alongside the bombast of Richie (Joe Mangianello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash). And there is a loose freedom and lightness to XXL that just isn’t present in the original. McCounaghey’s intensity is gone. So is the brooding of Pettyfer’s character. Mike’s success in the furniture business in the intervening years ratchets down the stakes even further.

There is really nothing here but the road trip itself, a notion confirmed when the story pays lip service to the broken financial dreams of the rest of Mike’s former crew and then promptly has them all taking ecstasy and discussing the particulars of their upcoming routine.

Director Gregory Jacobs, taking that mantle from Steven Soderbergh, and writer Reid Carolin are giving their audience almost literal permission to let the good times roll. Their offer is irresistible, especially given the memorable cameos from Jada Pinkett Smith, Donald Glover, Andie MacDowell and Elizabeth Banks.

Magic Mike XXL is not a wonderful surprise like its predecessor. In fact, it’s almost exactly what you might have expected the first time around. That makes it a highly pleasant experience, though an ultimately unmemorable one.