Take away the breakaway pants, substitute robots for strippers, and Magic Mike is a perfectly ordinary summer movie, story-wise. Ah, but add Steven Soderbergh to the mix, and what pours out is a seemingly complex work of art.
Magic Mike is not above pandering to straight women and gay men, but neither does it avoid trafficking in male-fantasy fulfillment; it provides a little something something for nearly everyone, as long as you’re cool with partial nudity and physical objectification. Soderbergh is the not-so-secret ingredient that makes the movie eminently palatable, a tasty treat elevated far beyond its ordinary narrative structure and stereotypical character arcs.
Soderbergh once again coaxs career-best performances out of actors (Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey) who previously appeared to have hit the ceiling of their limited range. As he did with Gina Carano in Haywire, he manages a similar trick with Cody Horn, a new actress with little to no acting experience.
Tatum plays the titular character, a self-described “stripper/entrepreneur.” By night, he’s the star attraction of a male dance revue that does big business with the ladies of Tampa Bay, Florida. By day, he’s a budding custom furniture maker and construction worker, and it’s on the latter gig that he meets 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer).
The two bump into each other later that night; sharp-dressed Mike takes pity on the bedraggled-looking Adam (who he takes to calling The Kid), and invites him along to his night job so he can earn a few extra bucks. Adam is an unexpected hit with the ladies, which impresses Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the owner and manager (and occasional featured dancer) of the strip club.
Soon enough, Mike is indoctrinating Adam into the ways of the male stripper — with an assist by Dallas, who provides dance lessons — and Adam proves himself to be a natural. He quickly becomes intoxicated with the fleshly opportunities of his new job, which does not please his older sister Brooke (Cody Horn), a medical assistant who shares an apartment with her baby brother.
Mike slowly starts to develop a relationship with Brooke, even while continuing to sleep with Joanna (Olivia Munn), who, lucky for Mike, enjoys casual sex and threesomes with anonymous females. Mike also is trying to start a custom-furniture business, while Dallas holds open the promise of an equity share in a new club in Miami, evidently the mecca for all male strippers in Florida.
Magic Mike, written by Reid Carolin and inspired by Tatum’s own experiences as a young stripper, is a male fantasy of a female fantasy, one in which all the men are physically-fit and dancing for the amusement of the ladies. It’s told from the perspective of a decidedly heterosexual modern male, however, and reflects old-fashioned values.
Of the two female characters, one denies her own sexuality and the other goes overboard in expressing it. (In other words, the classic madonna / whore complex, separated for easy parsing.) Our hero has a heart of gold and a body built for sin, but he’s not terribly bright — note the way he deals with his financial savings and also how he handles himself with a loan officer at a bank.
The movie represents a battle between the emotional and the phsyical, which suits the exemplary style of Steven Soderbergh just fine. He deconstructs what would otherwise be a modern updating of Flashdance with his camera and his choice of locales and his editing style.
Magic Mike looks and feels like it’s been sitting in the heat and humidity of Florida too long; it’s rumpled and sweaty and lived in, which is also its charm and its ultimate power, as Soderbergh keeps everything off-kilter enough to make the movie pop in a rather delicious manner all through its running time.
It’s enough to make a fella blush.
Portions of this review originally appeared in slightly different form at Twitch. Magic Mike opens wide today across the Metroplex.
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