Magic Mike XXL is Bigger, Better, Bawdier and Bomerier

With 110 percent more self-awareness, silliness and skin, Magic Mike XXL casts the spell that 2012’s Magic Mike couldn’t quite muster. It’s going to be a common observation: This is exactly what people wanted from the moody, artsy, and often-times slow first film. There’s a scene early on in which Channing Tatum’s affable Mike shows up in a stiff suit and is immediately tossed into a pool by a naked Joe Manganiello. “Okay, we get it, this is a movie about a bunch of male exotic dancers,” the movie is saying to viewers. “We’re diving right in!” Stripped of pretension and clothes, the cast gets to have a blast, and so does everyone watching. I don’t think our screening audience at New York’s Loews Village 7 theater stopped laughing and cheering once. The script is as hilarious as the actors are naked.

But it’s not all abs and tight butts. Magic Mike XXL focuses less on plot and more on character. In a nutshell (or a snug thong), the guys band together to head to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach for their last hurrah. As you do. Cue the whacky road-trip high-jinks of a The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert combined with the scrappy underdog story of a Pitch Perfect. Like before, Tatum’s Mike is the heart, with an adorkable likability — and those great moves — but costars Manganiello (Richie), Matt Bomer (Ken), Kevin Nash (Tarzan) and Adam Rodriguez (Tito) all get their own beats — with alternatingly hysterical, poignant and erotic results. Yes, I said erotic. For a movie without any onscreen sex or kissing, Magic Mike XXL is gloriously filthy. Before the screening, someone on Twitter suggested taking dollar bills to wave in the air. Not a bad idea! You can use the bills as a fan when things get too hot! (And that’s basically every five minutes.)

As Mike, Ken, Tito, Tarzan, Richie and their MC Tobias travel north, Magic Mike XXL services its core audience: gay men, women of color and middle-aged housewives, all with a naughty wink and smile at each pit stop. The characters the gang picks up en route only make the movie more fun. Losing the deadweight of Cody Horn’s Brooke frees Mike up to be the perfect awkward flirt, and he strikes major sparks with both Amber Heard and Jada Pinkett Smith. It help that Heard’s Zoe is only judgey about Mike’s choice of snack foods, not his career. As for Smith, her Rome is a ringmaster that blows away Matthew McConaughey’s bombastic Dallas (who doesn’t appear in the film). She sells the fantasy of male entertainers like a bestselling erotic romance author, empowering and sexy and so compelling you’d buy Florida swampland if she told you to. Rome also brings with her Community‘s Donald Glover (Andrew) and SYTYCD‘s Stephen “tWitch” Boss (Malik). While it’s no surprise that tWitch is a fantastic dancer, Glover is so cute and charming, he proves his mettle as a potential romantic lead.

This crew of simple, big-hearted, hotties aren’t going to solve world hunger, but they do have strengths: making you laugh and making you feel good. A perfect example is when Ken cheers up a despondent Southern wife by giving her relationship advice and crooning Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.” Yes, Matt Bomer sings. Twice. The second time it’s a mind-blowing rendition of D’Angelo’s “How Does it Feel.” Music is a huge part of the movie, from callbacks to Mike’s “Pony” number to Richie’s brilliant Backstreet Boys sequence. Fair warning: You may die. Either of LOLs or of the vapors. Speaking of warnings, before Magic Mike XXL‘s final number, Rome advises women who aren’t on birth control to head for the exit, and it’s no wonder! Let’s just say that Tatum and tWitch might knock you up with twins right through the screen. As the credits rolled, I was already clapping my hands and exclaiming “Again!” The gorgeous, gyrating guys of Magic Mike XXL embody the phrase “big, dumb, and tons of fun,” and God bless ’em for it. They’re precisely the sizzling summer fling we need.

With both a movie and a book out, some may think 2014 belongs to Christian Grey. Sorry, folks, I’m here to tell you that this year belongs to Magic Mike. He and his friends just ask what women want and then deliver it.

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