Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Munn, Cody Horn, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias.
In another life, before he became a Hollywood hunk and action movie hero, Channing Tatum worked as a male stripper as part of an exotic male dance revue in Florida. He was a 19-year old college drop out at the time. His experiences obviously inspired writer/director Steven Soderbergh, who worked with Tatum on the recent action thriller Haywire, to make this film about a troupe of male strippers.
Soderbergh is a director who makes lots of movies in different genres. Despite the prurient subject matter though the film is not as trashy or tawdry as those flesh and sex film like Showgirls or Striptease.
The film is mainly set in Tampa, Florida, and takes place over the course of one summer. Tatum plays Mike, who works in construction by day and at night bares himself on stage at the Xquisite night club, which is run by the sleazy veteran Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Mike is chasing the illusion of the American Dream, hoping to use the money he earns stripping to establish his own auto detailing business. He recruits the callow Adam (Alex Pettyfer, from I Am Number Four, etc), known as “the kid”, and introduces him to this exciting world of sex and partying. He teaches him the ropes, and mentors him. Following his first reluctant outing on the stage, the kid quickly rises to become a superstar, and is easily seduced by this world of sex, glamour and quick money. But as Adam’s star rises, Mike begins to question his own life and career choices, and recognises that he doesn’t want to still be a stripper at forty.
Magic Mike offers up another variation on the story of the seasoned, experienced veteran and his young protégé, who eventually overtakes him on the rise to the top. But, apart from the setting, the clunky script from Reid Carolin, who also coproduced the film with Tatum, doesn’t do anything fresh with the material.
Unfortunately, Magic Mike doesn’t delve deep enough into this world of illicit temptation. When Adam begins a descent into drug-fuelled depravity, the film doesn’t explore the dark side of this world. Nor does Soderbergh bring a sense of danger or threat to this part of the narrative when Adam loses $10,000 worth of drugs and is threatened by some thugs.
The cast is solid, but it is Pettyfer’s turn as the naïve but eager young kid who blows the others off the screen. Adam is a fictitious version of Tatum, but even so, the character remains something of an enigma. Tatum has the right brooding quality here, and he also brings a sensitivity, self-deprecating humour and vulnerability to his performance. He also has the pelvic thrusts and moves down pat, and this is probably borne out of his own experiences.
McConaughey effortlessly steals scenes as the sleazy entrepreneur Dallas, a sort of father figure to his troupe of low rent Chippendales. Dallas also has grand plans to take his troupe to Miami, where there will be bigger opportunities for money and women. And surprisingly, McConaughey, who is a couple of years past 40, has the sort of ripped body and physique that would put many a younger actor to shame. It’s no wonder he likes to take his shirt off as often as possible in his movies.
Rounding out the cast as other members of the troupe are Adam Rodriguez (from CSI: Miami, etc) and Matt Bomer (White Collar, etc).
The film has been shot with Soderbergh’s typically slick, efficient and economical style, and this stripped bare approach lends a documentary-like verite style to the material. But Soderbergh wisely reins in the raunch factor here and the film is more suggestive than explicit. Soderbergh has worked with choreographer Alison Faulk (who has worked with the likes of Britney Spears and Madonna) to flesh out the dance routines. There is a great soundtrack, including It’s Raining Men, etc, to add atmosphere to the strip routines.
Much of the dialogue in key scenes seems to have been improvised on the set, and thus lacks the right sort of emotional heft and substance. This is most telling in a climactic scene between Mike and Adam’s concerned sister Brooke (newcomer Cody Horn, from Rescue Me, etc). Soderbergh has shot the film himself, using the regular pseudonym of Peter Andrews, and he uses hand held cameras and lots of warm, bleached out orange colours and soft lighting to good effect.
The film is ultimately a little superficial and underwhelming. But with its hunks, himbos and oodles of male flesh on display, Magic Mike is likely to become an ideal girls’ night out at the movies.