“Magic Mike XXL” might be harder to swallow if it weren’t the sequel to one of Steven Soderbergh’s best films. Despite the director’s pedigree, many would-be viewers were skeptical about his 2012 strip show, unaware they’d be getting legit artful cinema in an arena begging for shallow depictions. In a way, Soderbergh took the heat off Gregory Jacobs, his directorial successor who takes the same material and lets it gyrate and fly, turning “Magic Mike XXL” into a comparatively, yet pleasurably, frothy second act.
Getting right down to business, returning screenwriter Reid Carolin conveniently discards two major characters from the first film, Dallas (Matthew McConnaughey) and Adam (Alex Pettyfer), in a single dialogue exchange, explaining they’ve skipped town for overseas gigs. That leaves remaining studs Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) as shapely soldiers without a general. Enter Mike (Channing Tatum), who’s been trying to live a quiet (and clothed) life since the events in “Magic Mike,” but is itching to get back in the game.
Needless to say, he does, and “Magic Mike XXL” largely throws caution to the wind as it morphs into a one-last-ride road movie, with the crew’s final destination being a stripper expo in Myrtle Beach. Along the way, Mike and company swing by a drag bar (partly acknowledging that this franchise is equally appealing to gay men and women), have wild beach adventures and spend one fateful night at the home of Zoe (Amber Heard), whose mother (Andie MacDowell) and her friends are empowered despite the raw hands often dealt to older women in modern society.
It would be hyperbole to call “Magic Mike XXL” a feminist film, since, at the end of the day, everything here is about bolstering male ego, but it’s surprising how well the movie regards and reveres females in general. From the more mature women who are prompted not to accept neglect to the customers a Southern belle named Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith) caters to in her private club, this sequel is hyper keen to the feminine psyche. In other words, it respects its audience.
Magic Mike XXL
Two-and-half reels out of four
Now playing at area theaters
Woman in Gold
Available July 7
Though hardly a movie immune to predictable plot twists and emotional manipulation, “Woman in Gold” brings into focus the subject behind Gustav Klimt’s most famous portrait, and more importantly, her niece (Helen Mirren), who’s trying to reclaim the painting from the Austrian government years after its wrongful theft by the Nazis. The film calls into question the value and power of cutural artifacts as symbols, and its gifted costars include Max Irons and of “Orphan Blacks” fame Tatiana Maslany.
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