‘Magic Mike’ more than gyrating bodies on a stage
Editor’s note: This review was first published June 29, 2012.
It happens subtly. The glamour that surrounds the life of Magic Mike (a surprisingly enjoyable Channing Tatum) seeps into the ether as quietly as the dignity of someone who’s 30 and still stripping for a living. You may not notice it atfirst, especially given the seductive nature of the scene: good money, good booze and good times. But it’s in the actions of the film’s stars, as they become less good-time and more personally destructive. It’s a clever shift, and it’s the point when you realize “Magic Mike” is far more than a movie about good-looking guys shedding their clothes for money. (Though there’s plenty of that.)
“Magic Mike,” directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Haywire”), continues the director’s work of meshing heavy themes for movies, including capitalism, with a commercial appeal. This time, though, those themes will be onstage with gyrating, hip-thrusting stars aching for attention. Based loosely on Tatum’s turn at stripping while living in Florida (Tatum shares producing credit, while his production partner, Reid Carolin, wrote the script), having dropped out from college and living with sister, “Magic Mike” follows the same storyline, with Adam (Alex Pettyfer, “I Am Number Four”) being the dropout, and Brooke (Cody Horn) being the responsible sister. Down on his luck in no small part because of his attitude, Adam serendipitously stumbles upon Mike at a construction sight where the latter is a regular employee during the daylight hours.
Bonding quickly, Mike takes Adam under his tutelage, folding him into his world at Xquiste. Even more quickly, Adam, pushed on stage by Mike, takes to sensual writhing and pelvis rotations with natural ease. He’s hooked on the rush, and the cash, that follows.
The plot following is familiar, taking on the fallen-hero (typically female) archetype. But instead of morals being the focus here, the stress is place on Mike’s ambitious job juggling: dancing, mobile detailing and a burning desire to build unique custom furniture. And there’s not much of a fall, either, unless you consider Tatum’s acrobatics dangerous to his health.
Set in Tampa, and doused in a white-orange by Soderbergh, we’re introduced to a trove of Chippendale-like men, the most memorable being owner-M.C. Dallas (a terrific and sleazy Matthew McConaughey). You learn quickly what you can and can’t touch on his sculpted body, but no one is listening to the rules.
You see, men exist to be looked at in “Magic Mike,” with paying women more than willing to do just that, if not more. It’s a visual film in the most literal of terms, breaking the traditional role of films being designed for the male viewer solely. Now, this film in particular, seeks to engage everyone, including women and gay men. It’s clear in the way Soderbergh selects his shots on our dancing men (the other strippers are played by Matt Bomer, Joe Manganielle, Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez) that it’s about everyone’s pleasure.
Soderbergh also continues his streak of movies featuring beautiful people in beautiful motion, like with “Haywire,” starring Gina Carano. There’s a certain visceral pleasure in watching pretty people do something interesting or unexpected. Soderbergh seems to have tapped into that well with precision skill, considering he has a knack for utilizing non-A-list talent.
Not that Tatum is non-A-list material. Thanks to his own perseverance and strong jawline, he’s risen from background dancer to well-known actor with his own successes and failures. He ably captures the boy-next-door persona, and it fits him well. (Think “21 Jump Street.”)
In the end, what may have been a unmitigated disaster has in fact surpassed expectations. A smart script, classic Soderbergh direction and filmography, and not to mention a stallion of leading studs, “Magic Mike” reminds us not all that glitters is gold, even when the hunk dancing on stage is actually glittery.
Four half-naked stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.