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Armond White

Bring On the Go-Go Boys

Bring On the Go-Go Boys

MM XXL

Magic Mike XXL shrinks male dancers down to size

What makes Mike Hale magic? In Magic Mike XXL, Channing Tatum as Mike gives up his furniture business to reunite with his bros from the 2012 male-stripper hit. They're on their way to a stripper competition. It's another chance for Tatum to show-off the dance moves that caused a sensation in Step-Up (2006).

Tatum's quick, sinuous moves ought to make him a musical comedy star except that genre's virtually obsolete. But his tall, lean body and heaving, rippling torso presents a spectacle of musculature as much as if plump-rumped Gene Kelly--Hollywood's manliest hoofer--had learned sexually versatile breakdancing moves.

XXL is too hetero-horn-doggish for musical-comedy fun. It gives Tatum two good solo numbers: First, in Mike's woodshop, inspired by Ginuwine's sex-you-up hip-hop classic "Pony;" his straddling, humping, ostentatiously dirty moves show confident toolsmanship. Later, he visits ex-lover Rome (Jade Pinkett Smith), seeking her expertise to emcee the boys' try-out at that stripper convention. Rome refers to him as a "ghost" from her past, so in the best dance scene of all, Mike reminds her of the ride she's been missing. He leaps, levitates and symbolically freaks one of the patrons in Rome's palatial nightclub/brothel.

This scene is dominated by purely heterosexual interpretation of male dancing. In Body Vision, a New York cable-access program about showboys, the performers sometimes slipped into gay gray areas. But the "magic" that happens in this Domina scene (the club's name salaciously mixes dominatrix with vagina) is totally straight--and a definitive example of mainstream cultural appropriation.

White Mike dazzles Domina's throng of black women, reversing racial-sexual stereotypes, evoking a master-slave dynamic but changing dominant-submissive archetypes to modern, transracial, shared eroticism. Mike magically out-dances Malik, Rome's resident black stud (played by So You Think You Can Dance dynamo Stephen "Twitch" Boss) solely to justify the film's culturally-biased premise that it's Mike who makes it rain dollar bills. He is cock of the runway.

MM XXL

Rome's club, where mostly black women get lap dances from beefy, muscular, undulating black studs (including TV's gap-toothed hunk Michael Strahan), stands in for America's hidden racial-sexual fantasies. This is the basic subtext of the Magic Mike franchise. To parallel the Domina sequence, Andie MacDowell leads a party of affluent white Southern matrons who seduce Mike's band of badboys. Upper/lower class differences are leveled by the lowest common denominator: sexual attraction--the "magic" frisson of miscegenation and culture-clash.

Yet Tatum's not-bright Mike isn't much of an erotic ambassador because most of XXL simply exploits Hollywood's male sexual taboos without overcoming them. (Gay erotica spoiler: No dick.) Producer Steven Soderbergh showed similar hetero timidity in his NC-17-rated feature The Girlfriend Experience. There's a peek-a-boo aspect to the climactic stage routines where dancers act out tired fantasies of masculine authority. (Even when the guys switch from one silly costume to another, it's still stereotyping with no exploration of the dancers' own libidinal fantasies).

The men's blather about career goals is uninsightful. Big "Dick" Richie's (Joe Manganiello) Cinderella search for a perfect vaginal fit isn't clever enough to express adult sexuality. It's just mildly smutty, like the film's politically-correct gesture toward gayness when bisexual Rome is reunited with her white lesbian "ghost," Paris (Elizabeth Banks).( Lesbian erotica spoiler: No humping just eye-rolling.)

Sharp-eyed ticket-buyers who go to XXL to ogle strippers may wonder why the movie ends with everyone staring at fireworks that moviegoers don't get to see. They might also ask themselves why there's absolutely no man-on-man frisson in the entire film. (MacDowell briefly mentions her gay ex-husband--probably an inside-reference to her mate in Soderbergh's 1989 sex, lies and videotape.)

Maybe XXL isn't as progressive about appreciating the range of male sexuality as the filmmakers pretend. Manganiello's documentary on real-life male strippers, La Bare, probed deeper. Here, Manganiello's character repeatedly defends himself, maintaining "I'm not a stripper, I'm a male entertainer." An honest gay movie about go-go boys would probably subvert that delusion.

Magic Mike XXL opens wide in theaters July 1. Watch a clip of Matt Bomer singing below:

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