DatesOpens Jun 29
Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s all-over-the-place, occasionally charming, characteristically chromatic, and surprisingly well-acted male stripper movie, is going to make bundles of money, that is, if the buzzing females who have swarmed around the promotional pre-screenings are any indication. I can scarcely remember the last movie I saw in which the air was so thick in the theater, the audience tension so high as it was before Magic Mike’s opening credits. Oh, and when it starts. When it starts Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas, a snake charming preacher-stripper, with a slutty drawl, rock solid abs, and sleazy shine, struts out to the stage, and with a little side show huckster spiel, wins all the yelping and squealing woman right into the palm of his hand. We’re ready, but stripping is all about salesmanship, and when you’re pushing product, nothing hooks like a good tease. Dallas motions for the show to begin, and Soderbergh drops Magic Mike’s big, old title card onto the screen. The audience sighs. Soderbergh winks. Just a moment, ladies, you’re going to have to wait for the beefcake butt cheeks.
Don’t worry, if you’re interested in Magic Mike for cheap thrills, Soderbergh delivers. But the new movie, featuring rising movie star (and former stripper) Channing Tatum, has something of a story too. Tatum plays Mike, the prize stripper in Dallas’ stable, who is also a sensitive, entrepreneurial sort. Sure, like the rest of the mimbos that dance at Dallas’ club, he has his cell phone full of girls he can bootie call, and occasionally wakes up not knowing the name of the girl in his bed. But Mike has dreams. He wants to open a custom furniture business. He has money saved to invest in his future. And as time goes on we realize Magic Mike is growing weary of his swinging lifestyle. If only he had someone to love.
While most girls have trouble distinguishing Mike from the boy toy he plays on stage, Mike may get his shot at romance yet. First he strikes up a chance friendship with the 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who just dropped out of college and is crashing on his sister’s couch trying to straighten out his life. Adam meets Mike at a construction gig, and then bumps into him again outside a club. The charming and easy going Mike quickly ropes Adam into soliciting pretty young girls to come out to the strip club. And even before Adam quite gets that Mike is a stripper, the young heartthrob somehow finds himself on stage, shedding his hoodie and jeans. It’s played as a joke, but it is really just one example of Magic Mike’s penchant for sloppy plot twists and sitcom silliness.
So what works about Magic Mike? I can hardly remember enjoying Channing Tatum this much in a role. Often cast as a no-nonsense action hero or a pretty boy romantic foil, Tatum feels at home in his role as Mike, full of cocky charm, believable candidness, and natural banter. Much of that banter is exchanged with Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn). Playing the punchy serious girl with no patience for the wild, superficial lives of her brother’s new friends, there’s nothing novel in Horn’s character, but she and Tatum do manage some of the more crisp chemistry I’ve seen in a romantic comedy of late. But the Brooke-Mike relationship is only one digestible subplot lost among a full program of kitsch bits. There’s Adam’s growing drug problem; the attention paid to romanticizing the sex-fueled lifestyles of the strippers; Mike’s efforts to secure financing for his business; and the half-hearted attempts to turn the lead into the stripper with a heart of gold, the man in conflict with his own identity as a slab of beefcake.
One of movie’s better scenes is a Fourth of July sandbar party in which Soderbergh’s camera glides in and around the cast, eavesdropping on the inane chatter of the strippers, their thoughts on education and parenting, work and the American dream, while Tatum and Horn strike up their most flirtatious and appealing exchanges. Into this mix, screenwriter Reid Carolin heaves a few scoops of dialogue referencing the world economic crisis and American flag glamour shots. Are we supposed to make a connection between Dallas’ grandiose dealings and the economic crisis’ banker-barons? Or is the superficiality of male dancers, their single-minded desire of money and women, somehow a commentary on the superficiality of American culture? Maybe, but the film is too jumpy, too willing to mix showmanship with weak jokes and a smirking good time to make any seriousness stick. In other words, Magic Mike is not only no Boogie Nights. In fact, it is hardly as theatrically satisfying as an actual strip show.