Director: Steven Soderbergh
Channing Tatum, director Steven Soderbergh and company walk a thin line throughout Magic Mike, a film that explores the world of the male stripper. It’s an easy subject to get wrong, of course, and an even easier subject to be criticized, each and every judgmental wordsmith crafting a pun-tastic title all their own. In this light, Magic Mike may be a disappointment, as it rather deftly combines comedy and drama, aware of both the camp behind its concept and the pain that comes the morning after.
The stand out here is Tatum, who’s Mike is a playful, determined sort constantly fighting with the realization that he’s not quite as young as he once was. In fact, he’s closer in age and experience to strip club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) then he is to the Kid (Alex Pettyfer), the young 19-year old Mike meets one day, and then again that same night at a club. Kid’s look and natural charm are enough to warrant a tryout to join Dallas’ club of male hunks. Rounding out this cast of good-looking characters are White Collar‘s Matt Bomer, CSI: Miami‘s Adam Rodriguez and character actors Joe Manganiello and Kevin Nash. Tatum has spent years now trying to outgrow Step Up, the Dirty Dancing rip-off that made him famous. It’s ironic, then, that the film to announce him as a true actor also relies heavily on his practiced dance moves.
Written by Reid Carolin, the plot and dialogue play second fiddle to the physical performances from all present. Whether you are going into this film to see some good ole male stripping or going in to marvel at the new Soderbergh film, worry not. There is plenty of both on display here. Each strip routine impresses, and every performer is more than up to the task of sweating it up and taking it off.
Tatum and McConaughey spend the majority of their scenes together attempting to out-swag one another, and it works wonders. These are charming men smiling and striking poses, all the while making us care more than we thought we would. Pettyfer smiles and mumbles throughout, very accurately portraying a young, dumb approximation of the same sort of young and dumb Mike once was. The weak link in this group of leads is Cody Horn, who plays Brooke, the Kid’s older sister and Mike’s budding love interest. She’s got an alluring face that Soderbergh clearly loves, a bit too much at times. The camera (Soderbergh serves as cinematographer here, as per usual) lingers on Brooke’s face too long more than once. Horn, serving as the conscience of the film, has some of the most on-the-nose lines here and does her best to deliver them earnestly.
A few of the supporting players are given plot-lines that are introduced and then forgotten in lieu of rather long scenes of what feels like improvised, repetitive dialogue between Tatum’s Mike and Horn’s Brooke, who have just enough chemistry to make it work. And while Soderbergh’s sunburnt cinematography and canted angles get old after a while, it does work with the aesthetic of the story.
Moments of wooden exchange or over-stylized composition don’t prevent this film from feeling undeniably genuine. There’s an immediacy that’s driven by Mike’s desire to successfully support himself in a legitimate business all his own. That the present economy doesn’t support male stripping is just one of many little touches present throughout. This is a little gem of a movie that feels more fresh and alive than most of what Soderbergh has delivered as of late.
Magic Mike hits theaters on Friday, June 29th.
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