THERE ARE NO SMALL PARTS: Magic Mike XXL and Minions


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Warning: SPOILERS
minions 2It’s not that common, but it’s also not completely unusual, for a supporting or minor character from a movie to be given a film of their own. This is more likely to happen in TV with spinoffs of popular TV series (Frazier, anyone?), but it does happen in tinsel town as well.
In Dead End, the Dead End Kids got their own franchise and when they grew up, they become The Bowery Boys. In The Egg and I, two of the minor characters, Ma and Pa Kettle, got their own series as well.
And in The White Sheik, Cabiria, a prostitute, via Federico Fellini, got her own vehicle in Nights of Cabiria; Ensign Pulver became the title character in the sequel to Mister Roberts (well, to be fair, Roberts was no longer around); and Ingmar Bergman’s From the Life of the Marionettes brings front and center the bickering couple who appear in the first episode of Scenes from a Marriage.
So in the past couple of weeks we’ve seen two more examples of the selfsame approach, though with a different emphasis in each outing and with much different results.

 

magic mikeThough Channing Tatum is still the titular character in the sequel to Magic Mike, Magic Mike XXL, at the same time, the other strippers are given much more attention and are made just about equal to our hero when it comes to the plot.

 

The most mesmerizing aspects of this entry in the franchise is the dialog, which has an incredible verisimilitude and realistic rhythm to it, and is so skillfully delivered in an overlapping style that could rival His Gal Friday, it often reaches the level of poetry.

 

In addition, there is on occasion, some beautiful sights, such as intertwining trees forming an arch at night and a drone’s eye view of candy colored umbrellas on a Miami beach, as well as some stunning mansions.

 

However, the rest of the movie, overall, never comes close to reaching these aforesaid heights. In fact, for me, Magic Mike XXL is weaker than the first and may be one of the weakest movies of the year.

 

The structure of the movie is actually a little odd. The original film was a morality tale in which the central character learned, after a bunch of decadent scenes of sex and debauchery, that his life is going nowhere and that he needs to repent and embrace bourgeoisie morality (sort of the Cecil B. DeMille approach—after all, you have to show all the sin in as much detail as censorship will allow so people in the audience will know what they should avoid doing).

 

This time round, as written by Reid Carolin (who wrote the original) and directed by Gregory Jacobs (who gave us the neat little horror film Winter Chill), the ecdysiasts (hey, I got that word from Gypsy Rose Lee herself) from the first movie are going to a stripper’s convention in Miami. They are all sort of at a crossroads and they need to go up a level in their career and/or personal lives, but can’t quite figure out how.

 

The oddity about this is that they are not going to the convention in order to help them go up that level and the convention in many ways will have no impact on their lives. For a couple, there are some minor dents along the way, but when all is said and done, this big climactic ending doesn’t resolve anything in the character’s lives in any real way.

 

That’s probably a realistic look at our intrepid performers and I can’t argue it. And it doesn’t take the middle class morality attitude of the first, thank God. But at the same time, I still maintain that this is a very unusual approach to take.

 

But now that the morality has been thrown out the window and the movie becomes a celebration of men in thongs, I’m not sure that the filmmakers have found anything strong enough to replace it with.

 

In fact, I feel I needs must be honest and say that I found the characters less interesting; their personal struggles of no greater notice; and the dancing not as intriguing as in Magic Mike the first.

 

In fact, one of the ironies of the movie is that Mike wants the group to rethink their approach to their act. Before they were doing the rather stereotypical characters of fireman, policeman, etc. and using music like It’s Raining Men. But Mike wants them to become more authentic, to be more themselves, to find personas on stage that are more true to who they really are.

 

But these personas they do find were actually far less interesting (and more importantly, far less erotic) than the more standard tropes they used in the first movie. Perhaps the problem is that in art like this, people aren’t looking for authenticity, but fantasy, which the group provides less of.

 

Which I think might stand as a metaphor for the movie: it tried to be more authentic, but in the end, the authenticity let the film down.

 

With Andie McDowell as a Southern belle who finally has an opening that one of the strippers can fill.

 

minionsI have to be honest and say I was not a big fan of the first Despicable Me. It just fell a little flat as far as I was concerned. I very much enjoyed the second, though; I think that was due to a perfectly charming love story that became central to the plot.

 

However, both films had one wonderful aspect to it: Minions, those yellow, pill-shaped, unintelligible Esperanto-like speaking, banana loving klutzes whose only goal is to serve the most evil person on the face of the earth.

 

They’re so comforting, relaxing, adorable. They’re the Tribbles of the cartoon world.

 

And now they have their own movie.

 

And I very much enjoyed it. I mean, I really did get a kick out of it.

 

Directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin (it’s their first feature and Coffin is also the voice of the Minions), and written by Bryan Lynch (who worked on films like Puss in Boots), it has quite a bit going for it, from some of the loveliest animation I have seen in quite some time (the background scenes are often devastatingly beautiful) to one of the best selection of songs in the same some time as well (a beautiful mishmash of sunny 60’s hits).

 

And the story is often very captivating.

 

It begins with an origin of the characters in prehistoric time, and even if the Minions can’t speak in a way such that we can understand so that we know what is going on, it matters not, since we have golden throated Geoffrey Rush to narrate the unfolding of events.

 

The real story begins years post-dinosaur when the Minions are emotionally imploding from not having a bad guy to work for. Three of the group, Kevin, Bob and Stuart, decide to head off for parts unknown to seek a way to rejuvenation, a trek which leads them, like Mike’s minions, to a convention, but here of the villainous kind.

 

The trio arrive just as the convention is going to be led by the world’s first female supervillain (don’t you love it when glass ceilings are broken), Scarlet Overkill. So naturally, the little yellow critters pledge their allegiance which eventually leads them to Swinging London (and more of that wonderful song score).

 

This leads to a plot involving taking over the throne of England and a knock down drag out fight in England’s capital city.

 

I do have to admit that I did have some trepidation. How are the filmmakers going to get us to be on the side of some characters who only want to serve villainy? How can we support their goals?

 

But the movie does find a way around this seemingly insoluble problem by having the villain betray her faithful followers and forcing them to save London by saving themselves and, in doing so, defeating the overbearing Overkill.

 

However, I do have to admit the movie does have a fault or two, the main one in the character of Overkill. She’s the first female supervillain. But what are her goals? To become queen and wear the English crown. Perhaps this is a worthy goal, but the way it’s presented here, it’s just so, so, well…”girly”. And because of that, the approach seems a tad condescending and even a bit chauvinistic.

 

At the same time, it does give us a great character in Queen Elizabeth, here reinvented as a monarch with a common touch and working class energy. Whenever she’s on screen, the movie comes even more alive than when Overkill makes an appearance.

 

With Sandra Bullock as Overkill; Jon Hamm as her co-hort, husband Herb; Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as the Nelson’s, a couple on their way to the convention; and Jennifer Saunders spectacular as HRH.

 

 

 

 

 

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