TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The major studio releases of the July 4 weekend are sequels - the fifth in the "Terminator" series, "Terminator Genisys," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and "Magic Mike XXL," which picks up the story of a former male stripper, played by Channing Tatum. Here's what our film critic David Edelstein has to say about these two films.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: A film producer once told me about a 1990s study, commissioned by a studio that asked what kind of movie reliably made money because once they knew, they said, they'd only make that kind. Can you guess what the answer turned out to be? Sequels. So given that they can't make sequels first, studios now factor the potential for them into their calculations. And audiences get sequelitis weekends like this one, featuring "Terminator Genisys" and "Magic Mike XXL." The "Terminator" movie - number five since James Cameron's 1984 original - is lousy, but it's fascinating from a business standpoint. Studios haven't had luck remaking old sci-fi blockbusters like "Total Recall" or "RoboCop" from scratch. But on the other hand, they can't just exhume long in the tooth stars and exhausted premises. So they pushed filmmakers to do something postmodern - invent alternate timelines mixing old and new with winks to the millions in the know.
"Terminator Genisys" begins with what initiated the original film but the audience only heard about. Machines have exterminated much of humanity but are finally defeated by humans under the command of rebel leader John Connor. So the machines decide it's their Hail Mary pass to send Arnold Schwarzenegger's robot terminator back in time to kill John's mother, Sarah, so John won't be born, whereupon John gets hold of the time machine and sends his pal Kyle to save Sarah, a waitress, from the terminator as well as impregnate her with him.
So how did the filmmakers of "Terminator Genisys" add convolutions to something already so convoluted? Here, Kyle arrives in '84 to discover that Sarah, now played by Emilia Clarke of "Game Of Thrones," is already a hardened warrior. And an old terminator, played by Schwarzenegger, is protecting her from the original terminator, played by Schwarzenegger's digital facsimile. The movie hops to 2017, a new timeline in which everything's familiar but different, as in the latest "X-Men" and "Star Trek" movies. The clever modern angle is that those machines now conquer humanity via cellphones, tablets and other points of cyberconnection. Alas, the new Kyle - Jai Courtney - is a dull meathead and the script is full of terrible campy jokes at the expense of Schwarzenegger, whose character Sarah calls Pops. Arnold looks embarrassed as he should.
"Magic Mike XXL" is a different animal and not just because the actors playing male strippers still have six-pack abs. Financed because Steven Soderbergh's 2012 "Magic Mike" was an unexpected smash, it's anything but a typical machine-tooled sequel. It's not better, but it's looser and more fun. The original was a morality play, another Soderberg parable of how capitalism transforms sex into a soulless commodity, ending with Mike - played by Channing Tatum - leaving his satanic boss - played by Matthew McConaughey - for a moral woman and an honest job building furniture. The sequel, directed by producer Gregory Jacobs, and shot by Soderbergh, under his pseudonym Peter Andrews, partially reverses that premise. Here, making it in today's economy is so tough that stripping becomes an antidote for the blues. Mike rejoins characters played by, among others, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer - no McConaughey this time - for a last hurrah - a road trip from Tampa to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. First, though, Manganiello's character tosses Mike's cellphone out of the food truck they're traveling in.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAGIC MIKE XXL")
CHANNING TATUM: (As Mike) What are you - what are you doing?
JOE MANGANIELLO: (As Big Dick Richie) iPhone went bye phone.
TATUM: (As Mike) Are you serious right now? What am I supposed to do? I should chuck your big ass right off of this truck.
MANGANIELLO: (As Big Dick Richie) That's the Mikey I remember. Look, if you ain't ready to bring it old school this weekend then you need to hop off this food truck right now.
TATUM: (As Mike) Why do you think I came this weekend?
MANGANIELLO: (As Big Dick Richie) I don't know, man. It's been a long time. But I do know this. You better be ready to follow my ass down the rabbit hole, brother. I'm talking out-of-body, baby, astral projection. Tobias, we're going to Mad Mary's.
GABRIEL IGLESIAS: (As Tobias) Hell yeah.
MANGANIELLO: (As Big Dick Richie) Nobody - nobody messes with the mojo on the last ride, brother.
EDELSTEIN: "Magic Mike XXL" - that's for extra, extra large - is episodic and ramshackle. The boys stop at a drag bar, a strip club run by a commanding Jada Pinkett Smith, a Charleston mansion full of lusting, middle-aged, rich women, led by Andie MacDowell, and the big convention center. The movie is far from perfect. Tatum engages in excruciating banter with Amber Heard as the new moral woman. And I find it odd that not one major character is gay. But Tatum is charmingly self-effacing. That's his magic. And the high camp strip teases are a blast. The dancing isn't chopped up. You're meant to savor these hard bodies alongside the screaming women. Unlike the strenuously witless "Terminator Genisys," "Magic Mike XXL" celebrates sequel slumming in style.
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interview with Judd Apatow or Oren Moverman, the director of the new film "Love & Mercy" about Brian Wilson, check out our podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.