Lotta magic left in Mike

Channing Tatum and his crew get together for another dance

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Channing Tatum as Mike Lane in “Magic Mike XXL”; Rating: R, Grade: A

Curiosity dominated the critical conversation when Academy Award-winning renaissance man Steven Soderbergh (the filmmaking chameleon who so deftly walked the fine line between the independent world and the studio system) teamed up with Channing Tatum, the lantern-jawed heartthrob who danced his way into our pop cultural consciousness in “Step Up,” but then figured out how to get audiences moving to his beat (most recently in “Foxcatcher” and the ongoing “21 Jump Street” franchise). What would Soderbergh’s version of Tatum’s early days in the adult entertainment trade look like?

Well, we should have remembered that Soderbergh, thanks to his breakout “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” knew a thing or two about clocking libidinous rhythms, and in Tatum, he had a focal point like no other. “Magic Mike,” the second pairing of this curiously dynamic duo, following Tatum’s brief appearance in “Haywire” (they extended their partnership through one more outing with “Side Effects,” Soderbergh’s feature swan song) displayed the director’s unadorned eye, fitting for a film about male strippers to hone in on the dazzling moves and the teasingly tantalizing tones of the MC (Matthew McConaughey, in the midst of his near legendary run of greatness) selling the greatest show-and-show-some-more event on Earth. The movie was the kind of sleeper everyone saw coming and was more than willing to throw box office dollars at with glee.

But, a second helping? And without McConaughey and Soderbergh (the actor was on the fast track to his first Academy Award and the chance to sell cars, while the director retired from making features to attend to passion projects like the Showtime series The Knick)? That left Tatum and Gregory Jacobs, the first assistant director on “Magic Mike” as well as a host of other Soderbergh projects to carry the load, along with the remaining (and returning) Kings of Tampa–Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Ken (Matt Bomer) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez). There is much discussion about the absent Dallas (McConaughey), but the newcomers on hand, including the rap-singing lover boy Andre (Donald Glover) and Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), the new sultry mistress of ceremonies with complicated romantic ties to Magic Mike, go a long way towards making us forget that we ever bought into Dallas’s club.

The Kings reach out to Mike, now running that specialty wood working business he dreamed about in the first movie. Rarely do we get to see characters step away from their dark passions, for a chance to go completely straight, without regret, and “Magic Mike XXL” is no different. Mike’s girlfriend Brooke (Cody Horn) has left him and the daily grind is wearing him down. It is obvious that he misses the thrill of the stage and the interplay of his crew, so when they call him three years later, seeking to lure him back for one last hurrah, Mike jumps in with both feet.

The gathering is all about one last performance, at THE stripper’s convention, which involves a road trip with random encounters along the way. That is where we meet Rome, find out about her link to Mike and get to hear and see her do that thing she does, which is as magical as anything Mike does. Women know how to talk other women into a horny frenzy much better than men.

And speaking of horny frenzies, the hidden attraction in “Magic Mike XXL” is none other than Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” star Andie MacDowell, playing the mother of a Kings of Tampa groupie who offers up her home to the fellas during their journey. MacDowell’s Nancy Davidson is a divorced Southern belle who knows that life requires a healthy degree of over-indulgence to keep the heart beating. When the boys leave her, on the way to their final destination, MacDowell’s spirit continues to hover over the proceedings, much moreso than the missing McConaughey, reminding us that once there are no more lies and the videotapes have disappeared into obsolescence, only the sex remains. And it never loses its magic.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at terrencetodd.wordpress.com.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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