‘Magic Mike’ se­quel gets stripped down to ba­sics

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Amy Kauf­man

There was cause for con­cern: Chan­ning Ta­tum wanted to rock dad-bod.

Per­haps sport­ing a spare tire would be an ac­cept­able cre­ative de­ci­sion for the lead of a Judd Apa­tow com­edy. But this was “Magic Mike XXL,” the sec­ond film in a fran­chise built on rock-hard abs, body lube and banana ham­mocks.

“It was a re­sound­ing ‘no’ all across the cre­ative board,” Ta­tum lamented.

“Ev­ery­one was like, ‘You don’t think he’s se­ri­ous, right? We want him to do the movie, but some­body con­vince him to work out,’” added Reid Carolin, who wrote both “Magic Mike” screen­plays. “This is one of those movies where you can­not step on set un­less ev­ery­body is in that type of shape or you’re [in trou­ble].”

“There’s no not be­ing in shape,” Ta­tum said, turn­ing se­ri­ous. “You wouldn’t do it — for you.”

So, be­grudg­ingly, he ac­qui­esced. He started to bike 20 miles ev­ery morn­ing and drink two green smooth­ies a day. You can see the re­sults of his ef­forts plas­tered all over town on the “Magic Mike XXL” posters, which ad­ver­tise the 35year-old and his buff costars (Joe Man­ganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Adam Ro­driguez) in all their shirt­less, glis­ten­ing glory.

The male physique is the star of this re­vue show, out Wed­nes­day, which fol­lows a group of bud­dies who take a road trip to Myr­tle Beach, S.C., to per­form at a strip­per con­ven­tion. (Yes, that’s a real thing, ac­cord­ing to Ta­tum, who danced for thou­sands of women in a “gi­nor­mous, cor­ru­gated me­tal ware­house” dur­ing his oft-men­tioned days as a male en­ter­tainer.)

Bi­ceps and bulges were on dis­play in 2012’s “Magic Mike,” of course — and were likely the main rea­son the $7-mil­lion pro­duc­tion went on to gross $113 mil­lion do­mes­ti­cally. But that movie was also di­rected by Steven Soder­bergh, the in­die-film pi­o­neer who lent an au­teur­ish touch to the story — in Ta­tum’s words, pair­ing a “low-

brow sub­ject with a high­brow cre­ative team.” There were plenty of re­veal­ing strip shows, but Mike (Ta­tum) was also strug­gling to move away from a seedy, drug­filled party world and start his own fur­ni­ture busi­ness.

In other words, you had to fin­ish your veg­eta­bles be­fore you could have dessert. But the sec­ond film? It’s all dessert.

Sure, the guys are fret­ting over how they’ll make a liv­ing af­ter putting on their fi­nal show at the con­ven­tion. But another of the film’s key emo­tional threads re­volves around Man­ganiello’s char­ac­ter hav­ing a penis so large women do not want to have sex with him. Sex­ual in­nu­en­does abound: Guys are con­stantly spray­ing wa­ter bot­tles or cans of whipped cream from their crotches. Thongs are of­ten in women’s faces.

“I don’t think there were any lim­its,” said Ta­tum, who seems just as proud of his begin­nings in the “Step Up” dance fran­chise as his re­cent dra­matic turn as a trou­bled wrestler in “Fox­catcher.” “I re­ally didn’t plan to do this again, so I was like, ‘We’re gonna find the ceil­ing on this one and go past it.’”

Find­ing a di­rec­tor

Ta­tum was sit­ting at din­ner fully clothed — wear­ing three lay­ers, in fact: a Hen­ley, a cardi­gan and a blazer — next to “XXL” di­rec­tor Gre­gory Ja­cobs and Carolin, who’s been his busi­ness part­ner for the last decade.

Ta­tum met Carolin, a Har­vard grad, on the set of 2008’s “Sto­pLoss,” “looked in his baby blue eyes and that was it,” joked the ac­tor. Both men are good-look­ing in com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways: At 33, the screen­writer is far less bulky than his part­ner but has a good 5 inches on him.

To­gether the part­ners, through their pro­duc­tion com­pany Free As­so­ci­a­tion, had to find some­one to di­rect “XXL” af­ter Soder­bergh de­clined. But Ja­cobs, who was the first as­sis­tant di­rec­tor on “Magic Mike,” did have a vi­sion for the new in­stall­ment.

Though the 45-year-old hadn’t di­rected a stu­dio film be­fore, he’d served as Soder­bergh’s right-hand man since 1993 — the two have worked on more than two dozen films to­gether. And with Ja­cobs on board, Soder­bergh agreed to re­main in a sup­port­ing role — or three: He was the film’s di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy, editor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

“Greg got that the first movie was about leav­ing the world of strip­ping and look­ing at its dark un­der­belly,” said Carolin. “And that the sec­ond was re­ally a cel­e­bra­tion of these guys and the thing they bring to women.”

In­deed, the men of “XXL” see them­selves as heal­ers of sorts. They don’t just walk off the stage and grind on women sit­ting in chairs. They sing for them. They throw out elab­o­rate com­pli­ments. And they don’t dress up in cheesy cos­tumes.

Ta­tum has a lot of feel­ings about cos­tumes. He loathed the ones he had to wear when he was a real-life strip­per, in par­tic­u­lar a Boy Scout uni­form he donned dur­ing a rou­tine to “Hello Mud­dah, Hello Fad­dah.” “I’m play­ing a child, and a lot of these women have chil­dren in the au­di­ence. It’s weird, and it dis­turbs me.”

Af­ter another rou­tine in which he dressed like a clown — “big wig, the big red shoes, and bal­loons” — he de­cided to start cre­at­ing his own acts.

“All those tropes — the fire­man, the cop, the doc­tor — they’re all char­ac­ters of au­thor­ity,” said the ac­tor. “And women’s char­ac­ters when they dress up for Hal­loween or what­ever? It’s like the maid, the nurse. It’s very fas­ci­nat­ing to me.”

In his own ex­pe­ri­ence, Ta­tum ad­mits, his strip­per col­leagues weren’t in­ter­ested in what women wanted. They saw them­selves as gods — “B-level rock stars who grew up in an ’80s hair-band time” and thought their au­di­ence was “here to be fed cause they’re hun­gry.”

So a movie about male en­ter­tain­ers who live to please women? That ap­pealed to many ac­tresses who read the script, in­clud­ing Jada Pin­kett Smith, who plays the troupe’s self-pos­sessed em­cee. (Matthew McConaughey, who took on that over-the-top ring­leader role in the first film, does not re­turn this time around.)

“Just be­cause men and women are com­mu­ni­cat­ing in an erotic, sex­ual way doesn’t mean there’s a need for degra­da­tion,” Pin­kett Smith said by phone. “Here’s Chan­ning re­ally pre­sent­ing a rad­i­cal idea: bring­ing a sense of ex­al­ta­tion and re­spect to an in­dus­try that’s of­ten looked down upon.”

On set, the ac­tress said, she was over­whelmed by the ca­ma­raderie she felt with the fe­male ex­tras en- joy­ing the group’s stripteases. It felt safe. There were high-fives. No one was act­ing catty or judg­men­tal.

“We gave each other the right to en­joy these beau­ti­ful men that were gift­ing us,” she said. “It was like Burger King up in there, and we were gonna have it our way.”

What women want

Ta­tum agreed that men and women look for dif­fer­ent things from strip­pers.

“I don’t know if women go to male re­vues for sex­ual stim­u­la­tion,” he mused.

“It’s a power dy­namic shift,” Carolin said, chim­ing in.

“Yeah, and the male re­vues of to­day are kind of clown acts,” said Ta­tum. “They’re al­most be­ing laughed at. There might be one or two things that might do some­thing for a woman. But I don’t think the ma­jor­ity of women get turned on by some­one they’re not hav­ing a con­nec­tion to. They need some amount of real con­nec­tion to be trans­ported to a place where they’re sex­u­ally open.”

It’s a topic of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to Ta­tum, who is help­ing to put to­gether a live “Magic Mike” show in Las Ve­gas. (He says he might ap­pear in it, “when he’s in shape.”) He’s been sur­vey­ing his fe­male friends via email to find out what women are at­tracted to.

“And it’s very sim­ple things,” he said. “Like cook­ing for them. ‘When my man makes me a meal.’ Or when they do any­thing they don’t know how to do, like craft some­thing for me.’”

A strip­tease about a dude who whit­tles Etsy cre­ations? It’s not out of the realm of pos­si­bil­ity.

“I have some girl friends that love the lum­ber­jack-with-a-lit­tle-bit-of-a-belly type of gritty dude,” Ta­tum said. “Do you re­ally want a meat­head ev­ery time?”

Claudette Barius Warner Bros.

“I DON’T think there were any lim­its,” said Chan­ning Ta­tum of the film.

Kent Nishimura Los An­ge­les Times

CHAN­NING TA­TUM is f lanked by screen­writer Reid Carolin, left, and Gre­gory Ja­cobs, who was di­rect­ing his first stu­dio film.

Claudette Barius Warner Bros.

EL­IZ­A­BETH BANKS as Paris gives Mike (Ta­tum) the once-over as his col­leagues watch.

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