Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike," starring Channing Tatum as a Tampa stripper, may have been marketed as one big bachelorette party but it also had a serious side. Its youngish hero, Mike Lane, was a working-class peacock discovering that life requires more than just a terrific tail. With its mix of hard bodies and hard truths, "Magic Mike" felt like a new-millennium version of "Saturday Night Fever."
The unsteady sequel, "Magic Mike XXL," feels more like "Step Up," the 2006 dance film that gave Tatum his big break, though not in a guilty-pleasure kind of way. It's directed in a slightly arty style by Gregory Jacobs (a longtime assistant director to Soderbergh, who returns to handle cinematography and editing). It's short on dancing, which is the only thing we came for, and long on dialogue, which isn't what we came for at all. The premise, in which Mike and his Kings of Tampa crew reunite for one last show, is about as original as a rip-away cop uniform.
Returning screenwriter Reid Carolin gives "Magic Mike XXL" no theme, conflict or plot. Mostly, the movie banks on its charismatic actors -- minus, alas, Matthew McConaughey -- to hold our interest. They often do. Joe Manganiello's over-endowed Richie and Matt Bomer's clean-cut Ken are so appealing that they outshine Tatum's mumbling Mike. Along with Kevin Nash's burly Tarzan and Adam Rodriguez's upbeat Tito, they create a lusty, playful camaraderie.
More often, though, the actors flounder in half-scripted scenes. Tatum's ad-libbed flirtations with Amber Heard, who plays a sullen bisexual named Zoe, go nowhere. Andie MacDowell (of Soderbergh's 1989 hit "sex, lies, and videotape") seems miscast as an undersexed Southern belle. The film is also overcrowded with actors whose roles feel deletable, including Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks and the singer-rapper Donald Glover. One worthwhile cameo comes from New York Giant Michael Strahan, who as Augustus does a memorable bump-and-grind with a hefty customer.
There are other impressive numbers, particularly Manganiello's "50 Shades of Grey" routine. "Magic Mike XXL" could have given us the brainless fun of a team-spirit movie like "Bring It On" or "Drumline" if it had taken itself a little less seriously.