Review: ‘Magic Mike XXL’ offers go-for-broke cinematic insanity

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This 3 1/2-star review of “Magic Mike XXL” was one of the more enjoyable reviews to write. I’m glad to see so many critics were as impressed with the film as I was.

We need “Magic Mike XXL,” and we need it now. The news cycle of summer 2015 has been utterly topsy turvy, making this the ideal moment for a film of six-pack abs, charmingly daft “male entertainers,” deliriously turned-on women, and a deluge of dollar bills.

Some things have changed in this sequel to the enormously successful “Magic Mike.” Gone is the element of surprise that came from director Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 film, one inspired by star Channing Tatum’s stint as a male stripper.

Gone too are many of the first film’s notable actors, including Matthew McConaughey’s crazy-eyed club owner Dallas, and dead-eyed Alex Pettyfer’s Kid. And Soderbergh (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven”) is replaced by his longtime assistant director, Gregory Jacobs.

Also jettisoned – wisely – is any semblance of seriousness. Admittedly, Soderbergh’s somber eye for economic hardship was key to the first film’s critical praise. (One of its more memorable sights was Mike’s sad notebook of ironed dollars.)

But dropping the gravity makes for a better film. For “Magic Mike XXL” is the rare sequel that improves on its predecessor. It’s a raucous, weightless party that might just be the summer’s finest comedy.

Much of that is due to immensely talented “21 Jump Street” and “Foxcatcher” star Channing Tatum, the inspiration-producer-star of the most unlikely franchise in filmdom. In “XXL” he is as delightful as ever, cementing his rep as equally liked by both sexes

When we last left Tatum’s “Magic” Mike Lane, he had made the decision to bail on Dallas and the Xquisite Strip Club crew just as they were ready to make their move from Tampa to Miami. He had also hooked up with the Kid’s sister, Brooke.

Fast-forward three years, and Mike has his own (struggling) business and a broken heart. When a call comes from old mate Tarzan (surprisingly witty WWE legend Kevin Nash), he cannot help but ponder the life he once led.

As Tarzan, Richie (“True Blood’s” Joe Manganiello), the aptly named Ken (Ken doll-ish Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and amiable DJ Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) explain, Dallas and the Kid have split town. So the gang is heading for one last blowout, the annual stripper convention in Myrtle Beach.

It doesn’t take much to talk Mike into joining this merry band of dancers, and soon he has a seat on Tito’s food truck.

That’s pretty much the plot. Occasionally, there is a callback to the hard-out-there-for-a-stripper vibe of “Magic Mike,” but the focus is mostly on this motley crew of characters and their adventures on the road.

Several sequences drag, yet by the time the crew unleashes its convention performance, “Magic Mike XXL” has become the rowdiest bachelorette party of (at least some of) its audience’s dreams. And my goodness, is it a comically joyous blast of shirtless anarchy.

New to the proceedings is Amber Heard’s Zoe, a sharper, sexier foil than the first film’s wan Brooke (unmemorably played by Cody Horn). Jada Pinkett Smith is perfectly cast as Rome, an old love interest of Mike’s who runs a wild establishment in Savannah.

The always likable Elizabeth Banks – who, between this, “Love and Mercy” and “Pitch Perfect 2” is having one heckuva summer – Donald Glover (“Community”), and Andie MacDowell pop up in fun supporting roles, and let’s just say you’ll never look at Michael Strahan the same way again.

Yes, the film misses McConaughey’s disorderly glee, and the darker elements Soderbergh brought to the table. But Jacobs directs with a light, unobtrusive touch, and he knows when to let his actors’ personalities take over. (It’s worth noting that Soderbergh was still involved as cinematographer, editor and a producer.)

Take, for example, Manganiello’s Richie. More of a background player in “Magic Mike,” “XXL” sees the actor steal almost every scene he’s in. One sequence in particular, a mini-mart, Backstreet Boys-soundtracked dance amid bags of Cheetos and bottles of Pepsi, might be the funniest scene of 2015. It’s that strong, and Manganiello nails it.

The film’s core audience was well-represented at the screening I attended, and hooted, applauded and laughed with abandon.

However, male or female, straight or gay, permissive or prudish, you will simply not find a summer flick to match the fun quotient of “Magic Mike XXL.” If you cannot appreciate Tatum and company’s go-for-broke cinematic insanity, maybe movies just aren’t for you.