Magic Mike XXL: Quality, clothes stripped away in subpar sequel

Calling something “XXL” implies bigger and better.

Double entendre aside, the sequel to the 2012 indie smash hit “Magic Mike” was supposed to blow away female audiences over the Fourth of July weekend like a massive fireworks display.

Moviegoers who came out to the Channing Tatum-helmed male stripper fiesta got their fireworks show, but “Magic Mike XXL” feels closer to the premature explosion from San Diego’s 2012 disaster when 20 minutes worth of fireworks went off in about 15 seconds.

Somehow, someway this film got made as Tatum and writing partner Reid Carolin pieced together a couple of general scene ideas and crammed them into a buddy road trip movie.

Tatum, whose “Magic Mike” character supposedly rode off into the sunset and left stripping behind at the end of the original, hops right back on the Kings of Tampa bandwagon within the first 15 minutes to join his old stripper buddies for “one last ride.”

The last ride plot device, most often used at the tail end of fading action franchises, implies that many rides were had prior to the upcoming “last ride.”

This isn’t yet another double entendre, which is surprising given it’s one of the few times in the film sexual or phallic imagery is subtly on display.

If “Magic Mike” were to become a franchise, it’s already been crippled by this plot choice. How many more last rides can there be?

Little of what made “Magic Mike” a surprise hit both critically and commercially remains in its “XXL” sequel.

The domineering and captivating Matthew McConaughey is gone, taking the most memorable character in the upstart franchise with him.

His loss alone is enough to cripple any potential follow-up, but things got worse for the sequel when “Magic Mike” director Steven Soderbergh opted not to return for a second go-round in the director’s chair.

With the original “Magic Mike,” Soderbergh made a gritty, independent drama that just happened to center around the world of male strippers.

The supersized version, if you will, under the direction of longtime assistant director Gregory Jacobs opts for style over substance, trading quality performances and well written scenes for gyrating hips and overly long dance sequences.

It’s as if Soderbergh knew the magic of the original film couldn’t be replicated, getting out of the way before the stripper train derails off the tracks.

Though it’s true Soderbergh is both cinematographer and editor under pseudonyms for “XXL,” it’s easy to tell that his heart’s just not in it.

For all the progress that has been made over the last six months with powerful performances by women on screen, “Magic Mike XXL” undercuts that step forward with subpar, one-note efforts from a trio of actresses.

Jada Pinkett Smith, who returns to the big screen for the first time since 2008, is a complete disaster as strip club owner/promoter Rome, who can’t bring substance to a character written for a suave male actor. Taraji P. Henson, rising star of television’s “Empire” would have been a much more worthy choice to fill the role.

Amber Heard, the film’s obligatory romantic object, isn’t given much to work with, especially when the “meet-cute” scene finds her stumbling upon Tatum while he is urinating on the beach.

For those wondering where ’90s rom-com star Andie MacDowell has been, look no further than “Magic Mike XXL,” where she drunkenly stumbles her way through an overly long scene as she and a group of aging women lust over the vagabond strippers.

Everything about the scene — and the film as a whole — reeks of desperation, and not in a good way.

Without McConaughey to ground the film or a substantive plot to pace it, “Magic Mike XXL” attempts to go big, but ultimately just goes home, where most people will ultimately screen the sub-par effort from the comfort of their couches.

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