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Tatum larger than life in 'Magic Mike XXL'

Sequel focuses on Tatum rather than ensemble

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They've turned "Magic Mike" into a buddy/road movie, but let's forget about the rest of the actors for just a minute (everyone else does in the sequel to "Magic Mike"). The filmmakers have realized just how bankable Channing Tatum is. Where Magic Mike was about an ensemble, Magic Mike XXL is Tatum's film all the way. 

Just to add to that nugget of information right off the top: Ladies, get your gal pals and head to the Cineplex; this is not a date movie. (Squealing females oohed and aahed each time Tatum bared, baby oiled abs or pecs during a pre-screening of the new XXL film.)

As the film opens, there's a close up of Tatum sitting on a swing gazing out into a vast expanse (cue the squealing). This is a meditative Mike Lane who gave up the life of male stripping, or as they call it in the movie, "male entertainment," three years ago (the original "Magic Mike" movie was in 2012 so the script sticks to the real time element). Now Mike spends his days in his workshop creating custom furniture and working with his hands (cue the squealing – enough of this, you get the picture).

Joining the catalogue of the solo dance frenzy a la Footloose and Flashdance, Mike gets dance fever alone inside his workshop. In a "you can't take the dance out of the man" moment and yet another opportunity for all eyes on Tatum, the radio tune turns to Ginuwine's Pony – you remember that song from the last "Magic Mike," don't you? And he's slithering and sliding and gyrating all over his workbench.

Then it just so happens that not too many days after his one-man romp, the Kings of Tampa call him up to say they are gearing up for a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. And does he want to join them? He protests, barely, and then throws caution to the wind.

While there's plenty of Tatum, there's barely a plot and not much of a story to grab on to – long passages of conversation seem to go on forever about the dreams and desires of the gang: Tito (Adam Rodriguez) wants his smoothie truck to be a success; Big Dick Ritchie (Joe Manganiello) just wants a girl that can handle every inch of him, literally; Ken (Matt Bomer) is still trying to break into acting and ditch two-bit commercials; and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) is grappling with facing life as a single, senior citizen. (Has anyone invented GrayDate.com?)

In need of assistance when the food truck driven by Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) hits a bump, Mike seeks out the help of Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith). She's a bit of a madame who has one of the swankiest mansions in Savannah, Ga., where black ladies come loaded with dollar bills to get their fantasies fulfilled.

There are other veers off course along the way for the gang including a house full of Southern belle cougars, scorned by emotionally vacant husbands. A spectacularly sensual and scene-stealing Andie MacDowell leads the pack.

Elizabeth Banks plays a former stripper named Paris who is now ruling the roost as the head honcho of the stripper convention.  Amber Heard is a mopey photographer named Zoe (of course, she too has seen a few turns on the stripper pole) who Tatum keeps bumping into, offering her "been there, done that" advice.

While Soderbergh's surprise original  – made for a measly $7 million; it took in $113.7 million at the box office – became a hit because of its gritty heart and soul, "Magic Mike XXL" relies on beefcake. Sorely missing is Matthew McConaughey's club owner Dallas. A flimsy story about the character taking off to Macau to start a revue serves little purpose.

But the absence of Dallas leaves more room for Tatum. And, judging by all that squealing, there's nothing wrong with that.