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Two Views of Magic Mike XXL

Me and Earl and Overnight surprise

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MAGIC MIKE XXL. I've spent the last three years practicing my defense of Magic Mike (2012) as one of the great movies of its time. Yes, it is a man-meat market par excellence, fine; it is a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold story, after all. And the dancing is pretty great. But what made the movie so good was the real characters at its center, an art-minded director (Steven Soderbergh) and a script tinged equally with sexiness, seediness, hurt and heart. It was and remains a true cinematic achievement, but usually when I launch into this defense, people roll their eyes, probably assuming I'm rationalizing my fascination with Channing Tatum's disrobed torso. Well, XXL is more for that crowd, those who only went to see Tatum get his gear off in the first place, than for me. Still, it has a shot at being, as my wife insists, "the feel-good movie of the year."

In the three years following the events of Magic Mike, Mike Lane (Tatum) left the stage and his crew, the Kings of Tampa, to pursue his dream of building custom furniture and settling down with a good girl. The business worked out, but it's a grind; the girl left. So when the remaining Kings, — all getting a little long in the tooth and absent Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) and the Kid (Alex Pettyfer), who for story/budget purposes have conveniently absconded to the Continent — come calling with exhortations to join them on the annual pilgrimage to the national convention in Myrtle Beach, he doesn't need much convincing.

What follows is a buoyant, if disjointed, gettin'-the-band-back-together road comedy. The Kings join forces with the mysterious Rome (a surprisingly compelling Jada Pinkett Smith), for a druggy, boozy drag through the South Coast. Amber Heard, Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks and Donald Glover pop up in fun cameos and everything culminates in a 20-minute-plus stripping extravaganza. XXL lacks the pathos and darkness that, to me, made the original great. But it is loaded with the stuff that got the rest of the audience into the theater, and it should please them.

— John Bennett

Here's what drew me into the theater to see Magic Mike XXL: Channing Tatum and the rest of the random hot manflesh. It's a simple equation that any good male stripper — sorry, "entertainer" — would understand. Give the people what they want. But instead of a two-hour ab fest, we get what is essentially a disappointing road-trip buddy comedy.

I blame the reviews of the first Magic Mike, the raves praising its plot and perceived depth. Perhaps because it was based on Tatum's own life and directed by Steven Soderbergh, critics thought they saw art. Not that the original isn't good – but Magic Mike is essentially an updated, gender-reversed Flashdance.

The sequel seems determined to show us that male strippers have feelings and good intentions and are more than just physically exquisite objects gyrating for the dolla-dolla bill, y'all. Sure. Got it. Of course male strippers are people, too. They're people! Why is this movie telling me this? Make Channing Tatum dance again!

Let's talk Channing Tatum. In addition to having a most aesthetically pleasing torso, he's funny and has extremely legit dance moves. He makes the Funky Chicken sexy. He's a god, OK? Like most people who enjoy such things, I would happily have watched him pop and lock and bump and grind until the credits rolled.

Magic Mike XXL even gives us a promising start when the now-retired-from-stripping Mike stops in the midst of welding (Flashdance!) when a certain song inspires him to start stroking his tools instead. Those few minutes of his character lost in the pleasure of solo dancing, a self-aware grin on his face, are hot. Seriously sexy. Delicious. Intoxicating. Like, settle back in your seat, ladies, this is going to be good.

But from there, the movie goes limp. Oh, it's sweet enough, I guess, but who cares when the dancing scenes are not only few-and-far-between, but constantly involve the guys humping on women instead of just showing off? I think this was to show how the strippers — apparently the nicest men to walk the Earth — really care about making ladies happy. Whatever. Mike might be magic (and I'll be over here Googling "Channing Tatum dancing"), but Magic Mike XXL left this lady far from satisfied. R. 115m.

— Jennifer Savage

ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL. Despite my initial concern that this would turn into a Wes Anderson knock-off, with its quirky cleverness and diorama-style compositions, it turns out to be a pretty original, though ultimately conventional, take on the vagaries of growing up.

Greg (Thomas Mann) has, by senior year, developed a system of moving between social groups without becoming affiliated with any of them. Meanwhile, he's building his own little Criterion Collection of parodies of history's great films with Earl (RJ Cyler), the best friend he's afraid to acknowledge because of low self-opinion and fear. When Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a casual acquaintance and the dying girl of the title, enters his life, Greg is forced to reevaluate his "at arm's length" approach to the world.

There are moments here that will ring true — say, for movie nerds with low self-esteem who also spent high school cribbing world cinema and were very sad at senior prom (not that I know anybody like that) — and the ballsiness of the filmmaking, at least in the early going, is inspiring. But as it moves into the meat of the story, the richness and humor start to wear off, leaving a maybe too-earnest teen drama. PG13. 105m.

THE OVERNIGHT. (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) and their young son RJ (R.J. Hermes) are new to Los Angeles, having followed her job from Seattle. One day at the park they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and his son Max (Max Moritt). Kurt invites them over for pizza and a play date, which all goes swimmingly. And then he reveals the paintings he makes of anuses, and the breast-pump fetish videos starring his wife Charlotte (Judith Godreche), and things start to get a little weird.

Scott and Schwartzman are two of my long-time favorites, and Schilling does a subtle, funny turn as a composed woman trying to take in the events of ridiculous night. The movie may lean too heavily on shock with so much exposed penis, but it's still very funny and, in flashes, acutely observed. R. 79m.

— John J. Bennett


THE GALLOWS. Alums return to the revival of a school play that ended in tragedy. Supernatural drama ensues. R. 81m.

MINIONS. Sandra Bullock and John Hamm lend voices to the Despicable Me spin-off starring the goofy, Twinkie-esque henchmen. PG. 91m.

SELF/LESS. Ryan Reynolds stars in this sci-fi thriller about a man who's had a little brain/body work done. R. 79m.


I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS. Blythe Danner as a retired singer looking for her second act at karaoke and flirting with Sam Elliot. PG13. 92m.

INSIDE OUT. Pixar renders our inner lives and the tumult of growing up with poignancy and humor through the personified emotions of a girl named Riley. With Amy Poehler. PG. 94m.

JURASSIC WORLD. Fun, well-executed dinosaur action thrills without convoluted plot. Like star Chris Pratt, it doesn't take itself too seriously. PG13. 124m.

LOVE & MERCY. John Cusack, Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks shine in this Brian Wilson biopic about his struggle for creativity and sanity. PG13. 121m.

MAX. A Marine's military dog returns from Afghanistan and bonds with the dead soldier's family. Commence bawling now. PG. 111m.

SPY. A clever, big-budget take on the spy comedy buoyed by the charisma and timing of Melissa McCarthy as a CIA pencil pusher out in the field. R. 120m.

TED 2. Despite laughs, the tired premise of the talking bro-bear and awkward pacing make for a furry mess. R. 115m.

TERMINATOR GENISYS. So we're doing this again, with the robot assassins and the time travel and trying to stave off the apocalypse. Now with Arnold-on-Arnold violence. PG13. 125m.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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