Magic Mike XXL review: candy shop

Magic Mike XXL has everything I want to see in a male-centric buddy road trip movie: easy camaraderie among bros, ridiculous scenarios played for genuine laughs, and lots (and I mean, LOTS) of ripped abs. And it has none of the things that gross me out in the genre: There's no casual homophobia or misogyny, or, frankly, mean-spirited humor at all. Just a bunch of hot guys who like each other and like being onstage even more.

I admit, if it were only one giant male-objectification fest from beginning to end, I would've felt a little icky by the conclusion. At its core, though, this is a movie about friendship more than it is about hustle or simple eye candy, and that's a big part of what makes it so much fun.

Magic Mike XXL is a sort of feel-good sequel to 2012's Magic Mike, the semi-biographical tale of Mike (Channing Tatum), a good-looking, good-natured male stripper who works with a crew of other impossibly chiseled dudes making their bank by getting (mostly) naked and dancing for an adoring crowd. Mike has bowed out and has his own furniture business now, which is going OK, but when he gets a call from Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and finds the crew in town, sans Dallas (Matthew McConaughey in the last film), revving up for a road trip to a male stripper convention, he decides to join them for one last ride.

Along the way, the boys' adventure leads them to, among other things, sexy club owner/MC Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), a gay club in Jacksonville on drag night, a gas station manned by none other than Amy Schumer, and assorted other surprises on their way to the convention. The plot is almost besides the point — just an excuse to get the crew from one (ridiculous) place to another, but that's OK, because it's so much fun to watch these guys do their thing.

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It's also an excuse to set up a number of tantalizing, athletic and even gravity-defying dance scenes, which never failed to excite my screening's audience of mostly women and gay men. Mike and company bump, grind and do what can only be described as sexy stunts throughout a number of sultry-lit environments, to the hottest slow jams of the '90s (with some more recent hip-hop thrown in for good measure).

The easygoing, natural performances make the movie work, even when the dudes aren't performing. There's Mike at the center, a charming, talented dancer who just wants to have fun with his buddies and cheer up anyone along the way. Ken (Matt Bomer) is a Z-list actor who is into Reiki and has a set of pipes that he loves to show off. Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) is the self-appointed leader who wants to make sure everything goes perfectly on the crew's last gig. Tito (Adam Rodriguez) is the goofball of the group, and Tarzan is the older guy/artist who just somehow always knows what to say. Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) is there to be the MC/driver/general friend. There's fantastic, natural chemistry among the actors, each of whom genuinely seems to be having a good time.

While watching, I constantly thought, "This is what Entourage could be like, if it were about likable people." There's a positive energy flowing throughout the movie, building from scene to scene until the explosive finale. I couldn't help but dance in my seat during some of the more athletic dance numbers, nor could I suppress a cheer at the many-splendored denouement dance number.

"This is what Entourage could be like, if it were about likable people."

Director Gregory Jacobs continues the naturalistic style from the first movie, with overlapping dialogue, documentary-esque camerawork and a generally low-key vibe, which works wonders, despite the obviously expensive choreography. This is a story about a bunch of working performers. No one on this crew is rich, and that's part of their appeal — Mike and company are the boys next door, if the boys next door went to the gym twice a day. The approach helps to endear the characters to the audience, which, in my screening, was already very receptive.

But Mike, Tarzan, Richie, Tito and Ken are likable people, not just pretty faces (or pretty butts). They talk like normal people, sometimes shouting over each other and sometimes getting high and professing their love for one another. They care about one another deeply, and that golden heart at the middle of Magic Mike XXL gives it a sweetness that sticks.