When it comes to binge-watching, I’m a real lightweight. (I don’t really get how anyone watches TV for hours on end. Don’t you people have shit to do?) So this “binge” meant that I watched the first Magic Mike movie on Saturday night, and Magic Mike XXL on Sunday night. (In case wondering: Jean was otherwise occupied both nights, and therefore has no opinion on either film.)
Both movies are about male strippers. “Magic” Mike, played by Channing Tatum, stars in both.
In the usual critical terms, the first Magic Mike is the better film (80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s directed by Stephen Soderbergh (something I didn’t realize til I saw the credits at the end). And it’s fairly gritty, showing there’s a certain hollowness to selling your body for money—even if you’re a man. We see how Mike has trouble forging a real, committed relationship with a woman. How he dreams of running his own custom furniture business, but keeps getting distracted by the easy money of stripping—though his stockpiles of cash do nothing for his credit rating and loan eligibility. And how an 19-year-old who joins the troupe (The Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer) quickly and dangerously gets caught up in the drug trade.
The most fun parts of this movie are the dance performances. In terms of lighting, costumes, and effects—not to mention how very handsome this particular troupe of male strippers are—it’s probably not so realistic. But that’s also likely why the movie became the surprise hit it was.
Magic Mike XXL is not directed by Stephen Soderbergh. And in the “usual critical terms,” it’s not that great a movie (62% on Rotten Tomatoes). The plot is super simple: It’s three years later! The guys are reuniting for one last big strip show! Road trip! Yet it nonetheless often doesn’t make much sense. Why are they stopping at this house? What is that girl from the beach doing there? What is the timeline of this movie?
And yet, and yet. In a world where so many movies are made for teenage boys, it’s hard not to have fondness for a movie so clearly made just for women. (Straight women, anyway.)
The first movie focused mostly on Mike, The Kid, and MC Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). The Kid and Dallas aren’t in the sequel, so everyone else in the troupe gets more time, especially Matt Bomet as Ken and Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie. And what men they are: strong, gorgeous, masculine, but also sweet, sensitive, and funny. None of them have wives / girlfriends at the moment, so they are able to devote themselves to the goal of making women of the world happy.
And they’re very inclusive and non-judgmental about that goal. You kind of plain? That won’t stop Richie from doing a big dance number just to make you smile. Racial diversity comes in after they visit club whose clientele are mostly African-American women (and they pick up a couple African American men to join the group). A bit old to get out to strip clubs? No worries; the men will come to your house to show you “it’s still your time”. Larger-size women get the same worshipful on-stage treatment as their thinner counterparts—and nobody throws their back out. There’s even a scene in a gay club, just so it’s clear these guys don’t have a problem with that, either.
Richie working the pop machine in a bid to entertain a grumpy shop girl
The stage performances are such a blatant attempt to appeal to women’s fantasies, it’s almost hilarious. Into rock stars? Here’s Ken, singing (nice voice, too), then stripping! Want to be married to a bad boy? He’s Richie in a tux with a big ring: but after the “wedding”, he’ll take off his clothes and throw you in a sling! Want to be painted? Have some guy lick whip cream off your thighs? Or just dance with a guy who looks like Tatum Channing? Done, done, and done!
So, you want a decent movie with a side of hot guys? Then Magic Mike could do the trick. But if you’d rather shut your brain off and enjoy a fantasy, just go for Magic Mike XXL.