Magic Mike,” director Steven Soderbergh’s peep into the world of male strippers, almost feels like a response to his 2009 film “The Girlfriend Experience,” which looked at online escort services. Despite starring wildly popular porn starlet Sasha Grey, the film was cool, cerebral and decidedly asexual; it also did lousy at the box office. With “Magic Mike,” Soderbergh loosens up and delivers what is expected in a movie on male strippers: sex, laughs, six-pack abs and thongs — lots of thongs.
Soderbergh developed the story with star Channing Tatum, who himself worked for a time as a male stripper while struggling as an up-and-coming actor/model. Although Tatum is quick to point out this is not a true-life story, it bears all the well-observed detail of real, lived experience, i.e., it’s not the male version of “Showgirls.”
Comparisons with “Boogie Nights” — also set in a dodgy, sexually loose subculture — are swift and apt: Adam (Alex Pettyfer) is a shiftless young barely-employable guy whose construction site coworker Mike (Tatum) helps him get into an upscale nightclub to party. Once inside, Adam is surprised to find that Mike moonlights there as a stripper, and is even more surprised when he’s thrown on stage as a last-minute replacement for the passed-out Tarzan (Kevin Nash).
Adam likes the rock-star adulation, the easy money, the even easier sex and drugs — all of it. Mike and club manager Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) show him the ropes, but Adam’s no-nonsense sister Brooke (Cody Horn) is not impressed. Mike, perhaps intrigued by the one woman who resists his well-practiced charm, gets nowhere with Brooke, but insists he will look out for Adam. Yet as Adam starts spinning out, the blowback looks set to affect Mike as well, and shatter his dreams of a career that doesn’t involve shaving his pubic hair every morning.
“Magic Mike” is the most fun a Soderbergh movie has been in years; McConaughey, in particular, is hilarious, especially in a sure-to-be-rewound scene where he schools Adam on how to do “pelvic thrusts.” Yet it also veers into more serious territory, that point in your life when you realize the stuff you’ve been doing to pay the rent has begun to define who you are.
“Magic Mike” delivers all the flash you’d expect from its strip-club environs — the camp dance routines, the howling women pawing waxed chests, the ecstasy-hazy sex with groupies — but in the end, it’s the characters who shine through. Tatum, used as a human Ken doll in so many other films, turns out to have genuine laid-back charm and a great sense of humor, at least in Soderbergh’s hands. Horn steps up with a very strong performance, carrying entire scenes with her Voice of Reason role by playing it solid, not shrill. Pettyfer, for his part, is instantly recognizable as that really sweet guy who thinks that being cute and nice somehow excuses being a total screw-up.
While the target audience for “Magic Mike” is clearly female, any man who sees this film and the lifestyle these guys enjoy will feel at least a twinge of “what the hell have I done wrong with my life” envy.
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