Tampa, Florida. Mike (Tatum) impulsively introduces a younger guy, The Kid (Pettyfer), to a strip club run by Dallas (McConaughey), where he performs as Magic Mike. The Kid also becomes a stripper, but as he gets into the party lifestyle and Dallas plan
When it comes to versatility, you have to hand it to Steven Soderbergh. He can deliver crafted Hollywood entertainments like the Ocean’s films, based-on-fact dramas like Che or The Informant!, and alarmist science-fiction like Contagion with A-list stars and multinational productions, but still find time and energy to fit in a documentary about Spalding Gray (And Everything Is Going Fine), a near-minimalist indie vehicle for a porn star (The Girlfriend Experience) and an honest-to-Chuck Norris female-led kung fu conspiracy actioner (Haywire). The director who followed up Sex, Lies, And Videotape with Kafka is still in business, and while it’s sometimes hard to pin down his own personality amid all this activity, he remains among the most consistent quality filmmakers currently working at the top of his game. With few exceptions, his projects are all the sort of thing you wouldn’t expect from what he’s done before which then turn out to be surprisingly personal. Magic Mike is Soderbergh having fun, but it’s still a serious picture.
On the surface, Magic Mike could be tagged a male remake of Showgirls. It’s liable — on the strength of the gym-toned bodies and flexible moves of its crucially heterosexual stars — to become the girls’ night out cult of the decade. Not quite a musical, it features a variety of good-humoured turns on the stripper ramp, opening (of course) with an ensemble set to It’s Raining Men. It falls in with a run of movies like Stardust, Lifeguard or Saturday Night Fever which explore the wild world of particular callings that offer all sorts of opportunities for sexual adventure and showing off, but come with an inbuilt expiry date since no-one can expect to hold up forever while subjecting their body to that much excess. For pop star, beach hunk, or disco dancer, substitute male stripper and Magic Mike is a worthy successor — though Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin don’t take all the expected avenues.
The usual viewpoint character for this story would be Alex Pettyfer’s callow newcomer, who transforms from a handsome guy who doesn’t know how to take his trousers off over his shoes while a hundred baying women wave dollar bills at him, into a confident superstar performer who is still too immature to resist the temptations that come with his stature. However, this follows Channing Tatum’s Mike, aka Magic Mike, star turn of the revue, who becomes a mentor to The Kid but also senses the looming limitations imposed by his party-hearty business. Tatum, who had a significant bit in Haywire and here produces, gets a vehicle which shows off his all-round talents. He’s sleeker here than in previous muscular roles, and shows an intelligence and sensitivity that other filmmakers have missed.
Tatum will get attention for bending over in a thong, but he really shines in a brilliantly written, subtly played film-long argument (with sexual/romantic undercurrents) in which he’s perfectly matched by Cody Horn (The Kid’s sister, Paige), a newcomer who shows enormous promise in the traditionally draggy role of the disapproving grown-up. Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey would seem to have a lock on a Best Supporting Actor nomination with his stripper supremo, half Joe Dallesandro in Lonesome Cowboys, half Joel Grey in Cabaret.
The final act has an inevitable wavering patch when the film is obliged to tut-tut about the shallowness of the stripping, drinking, bantering, carousing and whooping it has previously enjoyed, but this is terrific entertainment with a sideline in wry melancholia and testosterone-fuelled philosophy. Have 20 dollars.