They say we all put our pants on the same way: one leg at a time. Taking them off is another matter. Mike, for instance, tends to rip his off in front of throngs of screaming women.
Oh, true, he tried to put a stop to that at one point. Three years ago, the male stripper walked away from the profession to start a furniture business and, hey, maybe marry the girl of his dreams. Maybe it’d be nice, Mike thinks, to get undressed without a paying audience.
But alas, the girl of his dreams wasn’t so interested. And folks who buy his furniture don’t shower him with dollar bills like he’s used to. So when his old stripper pals invite him to the male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for one last, epic performance, Mike decides to go.
After all, he doesn’t want his tear-away trousers to get dusty.
Mike agrees to go, in part, because he misses his friends. And they miss him, too. So there’s a certain camaraderie in play here.
One stripper, when he hears women complain about their husbands, responds with surprising introspection: “I’ve had as good a run as anybody,” he says. “But I’d trade it all for a wife, a kid, someone who loved me.”
The film also offers one other interesting message about the core longings female customers are trying to fulfill. They are, the movie suggests, trying to satisfy an emotional hunger in addition to a sexual fantasy. The strippers often tell their customers that they are worthy, loved, beautiful and underappreciated by the men in their lives, a message that they clearly long to hear. In the process, the movie offers a perhaps unlikely reminder for men to treat their wives with the love and respect they deserve.
One stripper, Ken, is called a “level three Reiki healer.” (Reiki is an alternative medicine that has roots in Eastern religion.) He meditates and sometimes leads his cohorts in something like group prayers, with hands held and eyes closed.
Mike and Zoe, a girl he meets, have a sarcastic conversation about how any god worth believing in must have a high opinion of stripping. Mike quips that the god he worships is actually a she.
Rome, a woman who runs a house-based strip club and serves as the group’s emcee, tells the audience before a performance that they’re about to be “worshipped” and “exalted” (though you could argue that it is, in fact, the strippers who are being worshipped and exalted). Ken, with his clean-cut appeal, is said to attract the good, “Christian” women in the audience.
Mike and other male strippers take off their clothes for appreciative females. There are about a dozen graphic stripping sequences involving dancing, gyrating and explicit simulation of various lascivious sex acts. Strippers sometimes strip down to thongs, covering the bare minimum of skin. Ogling men is pervasive.
The strippers go to a club hosted by what seems to be a gaudily made-up man in women’s clothing who invites “queens” to perform on stage. Mike and his pals are among those to go on stage, and they dance more effeminately (one pretends to put on lipstick, another flaunts a feather boa, etc.). Another dancer pantomimes a sexual act with the emcee.
Dialogue deals with virginity, sexual fantasy, forced sexual abstention and penis size. Condoms and other forms of birth control are mentioned. Mike and Zoe jokingly say they’re drag queens, swapping crass and sexually suggestive stage names. Zoe mentions she’s “going through a dyke phase.” The group’s stage name, Resurrection, barely cloaks a crude double entendre.
One stripper has sex with someone. Mike admits to once having a “thing” with Rome. People kiss and fondle each another. Zoe says she’s trying to avoid becoming a stripper herself. Women frolic in bikinis. A man rips off a towel poolside to reveal his bare bum. Rome and another woman hug and act as if they once had a sexual relationship. We see other strippers working on their acts.
An RV crash results in the group’s driver being hospitalized. Mike encourages Ken to punch him in the stomach, which he does.
About 125 f-words and more than 50 s-words. God’s name is misused at least three times, once paired with “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused once. Dozens of other profanities, vulgarities and slurs include “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—,” “p—y” and “n-gger.”
On the RV, a stripper hands out Ecstasy pills to the guys. Everyone swallows them and, under the drug’s influence, begins tossing their old costumes out the window and brainstorming how to shake up their performances.
Characters drink lots of wine and beer (sometimes at breakfast), and references are made to whiskey and moonshine. People smoke marijuana. We hear a reference to “coke-dusted” cash.
Mike urinates on the beach while Zoe takes pictures.
One evening, when the strippers are hanging out with a house full of middle-aged women, one of the ladies admits that things aren’t going great with her husband. He will never have sex with the lights on, she says—even to their “song,” Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.” Ken tells the woman that her husband clearly doesn’t see her radiance, both inside and out. He begins to sing “Heaven” to her, takes her by the hand and leads her through a progressively more seductive, gyrating dance.
It’s not the most graphic scene in the movie. Not by a longshot. But for me, it might have been the most bothersome. When Ken sings “Heaven,” he steals something precious shared by this woman and her husband. Now, when she hears the song, this woman won’t think of the years of love and commitment she’s shared with her husband (as imperfect as they might have been), but of a three-minute musical seduction by a fantasy man half her age who’s just in town for the night. If Ken thought he was saving a marriage, it seems more likely that he helped end it.
What Magic Mike XXL ultimately offers is shallow escapism—intended to be as sexy and as tawdry as its pretty-boy leads. While no one shows every bit of their bits here, the result feels pretty close to pornography nonetheless, both physically and emotionally. And it carries with it the same dangers that porn does: It primes its audience for an unrealistic fantasy. It elevates sex and bodily satisfaction over love.
And it makes it impossible for any man—even Channing Tatum himself—to live up to the scripted, writhing, ab mannequins we see on screen.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.