In theaters Wednesday, July 1
3 stars (out of 4 stars)
The ladies are finally in control this summer.
All it took were six men gyrating in assless chaps.
Oh, yes, this follow-up film about a pack of genetically blessed, oiled-up male strippers is both light on its feet and a dazzling feat of sexy entertainment. It’s also loaded with more good times than the last bachelorette party you pretended to have fun at while you secretly longed to be home bingeing Orange Is the New Black.
Three long, hard years have passed since we’ve seen the Kings of Tampa. “Magic Mike” Lane (Channing Tatum) is now single, out of the business, and happily running his own furniture company. His cohorts — including “Big Dick” Richie (Joe Manganiello) and Ken (Matt Bomer) — are less content. The act’s former emcee, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), got a career boost and won a Best Actor Oscar. . . er, high-tailed it to China. Now everyone is out of a job. But before the guys go their separate ways, they want to head out to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for one last hurrah. Can Mike come out and play too?
At first, it’s a no. Then, one night, he hears his ole dancing standby, “Pony.” He can’t help but bust a move in his woodshed, Flashdance-style. Decades from now, when Tatum is honored with some heady lifetime achievement award, the film montage better include spliced footage of the actor wrestling Steve Carell to the ground in Foxcatcher and writhing against a power drill.
The nostalgic sounds of Ginuwine stir up the golden memories. Of course Mike is going to pack it up and join his friends on the road. And as soon as the boys liken his heralded return to Kevin Richardson rejoining The Backstreet Boys (or was it ‘N Sync?), we know that shameless fun is also along for the ride.
That means saying good riddance to Steven Soderbergh’s disappointedly gritty take of the business in the 2012 original. What was billed as mindless summer escapism turned out to be unexpectedly raw and heavy. Watching the guys pump up backstage and strip to “It’s Raining Men” was a guilty pleasure; watching the guys be drug mules and screw each other out of money. . . eh, pass the sunscreen.
Tatum, a co-producer on both films who based the story on his own experiences as an exotic dancer, has clearly wised up. (The film’s cheeky subtitle is no coincidence). Not only have the guys ditched the drama, they’re in on the joke. The gorgeous “Ken Doll” Bomer, for example, is concerned that he’s too pretty to book another acting gig outside of a Tide commercial. And when the guys decide to pop pills, their goofy-high leads to the most uproarious scene in the movie: Picture Manganiello bumping and grinding and dousing himself with bottled water in a convenience store in order to make the cashier smile. Now picture it again.
Even more welcome, the women on-screen don’t get treated like eye candy. Leading the way is Jada Pinkett Smith’s ferocious Rome in a part originally written for a man. We first get a glimpse of her at a brothel in Savannah, where, as the resident emcee, she calls her female clients “Queens” and introduces entertainers played by Michael Strahan and Community’s Donald Glover. She’s got the confidence to rebuff ex Mikes’s advances — and won’t agree to be the Kings of Tampa’s new emcee until he performs. Elsewhere along the route, the guys befriend a group of flirtatious older Southern Belles in a surreal scene culminating in Bomer singing a Bryan Adams ballad. (Only Amber Heard, as a lost-soul photographer kinda-maybe interested in Mike, is a buzzkill and stops the fun cold whenever she appears on-screen.)
After seeing women get ogled in everything from Furious 7 to Ted 2 this year, how refreshing that they’re empowered and respected in this kind of flick. Sure, it’s a bit of an eye-roll when Bomer drawls to one the Belles that she’s still in her prime — but at least there’s a concerted and sincere effort to make her feel special, and not like she’s a bigger dinosaur than the Indominus Rex.
And boy, do the ladies receive their dollars’ worth during the pec-tacularly gleeful climactic performances at Stripper-Con. Trust, you’ll never hear Nine Inch Nails the same way again.
Come and get it.
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