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‘Magic Mike XXL’ an abs-olutely pec-tacular experience

As a movie, the nearly two hours of gyrating man candy known as “Magic Mike XXL” is awful. Atrocious even.

But as an experience, it’s abs-olutely pec-tacular. It’s everything “Fifty Shades of Grey” should have been. The only way to more perfectly deliver exactly what its fans want would be to rerelease it, unrated and in 3-D.

Technically, “Magic Mike XXL” can barely even be considered a movie. The script, once again by Reid Carolin, could have been written on a cocktail napkin. And you’d have to put it under an electron microscope to have any hope of detecting a plot. There’s no antagonist, no denouement. There’s barely any conflict or adversity. And there’s certainly no character growth. The only stakes are whether Mike (Channing Tatum) and the rest of the onetime Kings of Tampa will totally crush it at a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Magic Mike XXL” is what everyone assumed the original would be — just a whole lotta strippin’ — and it’s almost genius in its simplicity.

The action, such as it is, picks up three years after Mike hung up his man thong as he’s struggling to get his custom furniture business off the ground. The rest of the gang — Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) — have been foundering since Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) took The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) and ran off to start a similar show in Macau.

After reconnecting, Mike and the guys, including their MC, Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias), head out for one last ride across the South in a food truck. So it’s basically “Chef” without the father-son bonding, and instead of serving Cubanos, the only thing on the menu is beefcake.

The first half hour or so is a bland retread of the original which, in the hands of director Steven Soderbergh, was surprisingly good. (Soderbergh is back behind the camera as cinematographer and editor, but he’s handed off the directing duties to his longtime assistant director, Gregory Jacobs.)

But then something amazing happens. The guys, high on Molly, pull into a gas station and dare Richie to improvise a routine that can make the dour convenience store clerk (Lindsey Moser) smile. Before long, he’s writhing amid the salty snacks and motor oil as the guys press their noses against the window with childlike glee. The result is bizarrely and giddily hilarious, and it’s one of the goofiest moments in a movie full of them.

Another top contender is the scene in which Mike — working in his wood shop when his signature song, Ginuwine’s “Pony,” comes on — can’t resist grinding and spinning about while playing directly to, and even acknowledging, the audience.

Honestly, it’s difficult to convey just how surreal this movie is.

After gassing up, the guys head to a palatial private club run by Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith). After some small talk, Michael Strahan comes out and dry humps all over a lady. “So You Think You Can Dance’s” Stephen “tWitch” Boss struts in and literally vibrates. Then Donald Glover freestyle raps for a swooning customer. By the time Mike responds to a challenge with some gravity-defying scrotal shenanigans, roughly 20 minutes have gone by and the dollar bills are raining down like ticker tape on V-J Day.

They end up dropping in on a Southern belle (Andie MacDowell) and a handful of fellow cougars, who eyeball their houseguests much the way that goat does the T. rex in “Jurassic World.” And a photographer (Amber Heard) turns up a few times as a potential love interest for Mike who, during one of his routines, flings her about like the unfortunate homeowner in one of those found-footage horror movies. She’s grinning at the end, but it’s hard to tell whether she should be offered a cigarette or a police report.

Aside from the big finale at the convention, that’s pretty much everything that happens in the minimalist “Magic Mike XXL,” which was filmed in a breakneck 30 days but feels like it could’ve been knocked out over a long weekend.

Tatum practically oozes charisma, and Manganiello nearly proves his equal. Ken, Tito and Tarzan have more to do this time around, but they largely remain ciphers. With the kind of money the sequel will rake in, though, they should have more opportunities to break out.

Since they’re getting a bit long in the tooth to rely on stripping as their primary income — Tarzan was in Desert Storm for crying out loud — here’s hoping for a “Fast and Furious”-style revamp that turns the guys into mercenaries or whatever the heck Dom and his crew have become. It could still force in some occasional stripping the way the “Furious” movies shoehorn in car chases where they don’t belong.

“Mike, the president is being held hostage at a women’s prison. We’ve exhausted every option.” “Not EVERY option, Mr. Vice President.” And then “Pony” starts playing.

“We need to retrieve those nuclear launch codes from the dictator’s daughter, Mike, and we’ve only got five minutes!” “Relax, Tarzan. We’ll only need three.” And then “Pony” starts playing.

That’s two sequels that already have more plot than “Magic Mike XXL.” And they’d still surely leave moviegoers every bit as sweaty, wild-eyed and disheveled.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @life_onthecouch.

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