Soderbergh stepped away from the directing chair for XXL, choosing instead to shoot and edit the film as he so often does. Gregory Jacobs takes over as director, while Reid Carolin returns as the writer. Jacobs never really impresses, as the most interesting aspect of XXL is Carolin's script this time out. Where the original honestly captured the many different income streams necessary for a non-college educated person to potentially chase his dreams, the sequel suggests that maybe those dreams aren't going to happen, no matter what. The Myrtle Beach convention isn't treated as a new avenue to stripping wealth or opportunity or even an event with a prize or judges, but as the beginning of the rest of the characters' lives. This chapter is ending, but Magic Mike has a reputation as a flouncy good time, so any bittersweetness has to be leavened. The characters essentially act like the denizens of Friday Night Lights, where they are actively living in the best days of their lives, knowing that from here, it's all downhill, back to degrading interviews and dwindling furniture sales.
Having committed to being a hang-out film where everything is solved by multiple deus ex machina's, the cast excels at following Jacobs down this path. XXL, as expected, is a lot of fun despite how silly and frivolous it is. A stop at a gas station gives Manganiello the beginning, middle, and end of his career highlight reel, as he'll probably never top it. An interlude at a plantation-turned-male-strip-club is downright revolutionary, as this building that used to be dedicated to black misery has now been turned into a house of black pleasure by madam Jada Pinkett Smith and deejay Donald Glover. The Kings charm the pants off of a group of middle-aged women in another detour, reminding them that they are sexy and deserving of satisfaction from their negligent husbands. Led by Tatum's kinetic dancing and easy charisma, this group of bro's don't descend into bro stereotypes, remaining earnestly worshipful of any and all women they encounter.
Of course, Magic Mike XXL does exist in a world where good-looking white dudes already do pretty well for themselves, so whether a film with so little to say deserves points for being so unconcerned with the usual expectations like plot and conflict is an open question. Unlike Richard Linklater's similar Everybody Wants Some, this feels like a fantasy and not a thoughtful representation of a subculture. Additionally, the impossibility of a gender-flipped version, where Magic Michaela boosts the confidence of beta males by grinding on them, makes the whole endeavor feel a little icky. As a collection of scenes without much of a throughline, the film succeeds on the strength of several of those individual scenes. The complete picture is less appealing. Seeking out the best scenes on youtube is a fine way to experience Magic Mike XXL. C+