There’s been a lot of talk about how Magic Mike, the “male stripper movie” based on producer-star Channing Tatum’s early experiences and directed by Steven Soderbergh, won’t play to heterosexual men—and how this may inevitably spell box-office trouble. And from the film’s marketing campaign, which naturally capitalizes on its scantily clad beefcake ensemble bumping and grinding to an enthusiastic female audience, you might think (and I’m sure the studio wouldn’t mind if you did) that Magic Mike is merely high-gloss titillation for the 50 Shades of Grey set.
Except it’s much more than that. Magic Mike features a very comfortable performance from star Tatum as a would-be, upwardly mobile guy who can’t quite get a break, as well as solidly professional direction from Steven Soderbergh, who delivers a very stylish (the cinematography is stunning) and entertaining summer movie—made for a mere $5 million bucks.
Soderbergh, who has been off his game with recent disappointments like Haywire (Tatum also starred) and Contagion (a routine thriller about a global pandemic), returns to form with a richly atmospheric depiction of a sometimes seedy South Florida milieu shot in neon and sepia tones—often washed out to the point of looking filtered through the hazy summer sun, and a fine eye for capturing laid-back realism from his ensemble. It all goes down easily with some thoughtful notions on how we sell ourselves short, want to get places that we sometimes cannot and may just be able to course correct when the opportunity arises. Not bad messages for a summer movie about strippers, if you ask me.
Loosely drawing on his own experiences at age 18, Tatum is Mike, a thirty-year-old Tampa guy with many irons in the fire—construction worker, car detailer, stripper and maker of custom furniture, which he dreams of parlaying into a legitimate business. He stockpiles cash earned headlining the show at Xquisite, an all-male revue run by a wily cock-of-the-walk named Dallas, played with snaky sex-appeal by Matthew McConaughey as the no BS proprietor, planning to take his g-stringers to the big-time hustle of Miami.
Enter broke, wet-behind-the-ears Adam (Alex Pettyfer), nineteen but looking like he’s had a few hard knocks, who accompanies Mike to the show and—no surprise—becomes the new kid in the lineup. But before you think shopworn or Showgirls, Magic Mike isn’t a testosterone-fueled All About Eve. Rather, Adam, well played with understatement by Pettyfer (I Am Number Four), is our guide into Xquisite’s fraternal den, which includes a collection of other guys in thongs—Joe Manganiello as “Big Dick Richie” (don’t ask), Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash and resident DJ Gabriel Iglesias, pimping drugs on the side. If the movie doesn’t so much provide insights into what makes these guys exhibitionists nor dig too deeply into darker areas, they are surely a watchable and engaging crew. Pettyfer, in particular, conveys an effective babe-in-the-woods vibe in the film’s later stretches, where he descends into the excess of drugs and women, that is wholly believable.
As Adam moves up the food chain under the tutelage of both Mike and Dallas (there’s a provocative scene in a gym involving a gyration how-to), Mike befriends Adam’s straight-laced sister Brooke (newcomer Cody Horn), a reserved medical assistant who reluctantly grows close to Mike while simultaneously resenting him for her brother’s rising drug and responsibility issues, where the movie pulls no punches.
For a while, everything in Mike’s life seems free, fast and easy—women, beach, money. But in the film’s best scene, Mike’s spotty credit history blocks him from getting the loan to start his business and new life. Tatum excels at depicting Mike’s disillusionment while trying unsuccessfully to charm a pretty loan officer with charisma and a wad of cash—staples of his world—and learns a lesson about the limitations of such. In the club he’s the star, but outside no one sees him.
He’s also not taken seriously by the women he cares for, and in the film’s opening, he awakens from a drunken three-way, unable to remember a naked, passed out participant’s name. Meanwhile, a casual sex buddy and professional (Olivia Munn), likes him in bed but doesn’t see him as a prospect in the real world; ditto Brooke’s increasing frustration with a guy she could let herself like if he’d only he liked himself a bit more. Horn is refreshing and low-key; there’s nothing show-offy or overly beautiful about her, and unlike most young actresses, she doesn’t exude overconfidence.
And then there is Tatum, a superb dancer and real showman who has moves that quite literally put your jaw on the floor in a series of creatively choreographed, athletic sequences, throwing himself into the role with zero vanity and a strong dose of endearing self-awareness, under Soderbergh’s expert guidance.
Magic Mike is intelligent entertainment, professionally mounted and performed.
3 1/2 stars.