Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Reid Carolin (screenplay)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn and Matthew McConaughey
Magic Mike is not a radical film. Its form is decidedly modern, with director Steven Soderbergh creating a lived-in yet color-saturated urban Florida summer. Its content, a fairly standard “Getting my life together” narrative, has been made radical because of Hollywood’s endless dedication to the male gaze.
As you are probably aware at this point, Magic Mike is the Channing Tatum stripper movie. It is a summer success story that is somehow a surprise because averting the endless movie camera gawk at the female form and aiming it at men is seen as a risk. Studio executives remain in a state of shock when the non-heterosexual male half of the population turns out to support a movie made for them.
There is a critical difference between Magic Mike and other movies that use bare flesh as eye candy, though, and that’s that the director has a brain. Soderbergh’s approach to the material gives the audience plenty to drool over in the hammed-up strip dance sequences, but he thankfully is also here to tell a story. Partnering with a never-better Tatum, he takes Reid Carolin’s script and helps illustrate the inside workings of a Tampa strip joint. Of course the dancers don’t go through as many tribulations as the athletes of The Wrestler or Black Swan, so the backstage intrigue is decidedly less intense and pretty run-of-the-mill.
Despite all the flashy moves on stage, one of the main points here is that Mike (Tatum) and his new protege Adam (Alex Pettyfer) are pretty common fare, except of course physically. Adam and his sister Brooke (Cody Horn) are used to take us into the sweaty club culture where Mike does his night moves. By day, it’s construction and custom furniture-building, which he hopes to one day turn into his sole source of income.
Working class strippers can’t get financing for their American dreams, though, no matter how compact and reasonable they may seem. Tatum plays Mike not as desperate, but as a man biding his time, waiting for the moment to cash out. Pettyfer does all he can to keep up, but unlike the star this movie isn’t based partially on fact for him. Horn and the charismatic club boss played by Matthew McConaughey also give energetic supporting performances, though.
Most of the plot points can be seen from a mile away, though the charismatic acting and Soderbergh’s careful maneuvering around the third act’s melodrama help cushion the blow. Magic Mike is more about an illustration of a world than it is about a story, and in that respect it largely succeeds. There are clumsy subplots involving drug dealing and flings with Olivia Munn, but the main relationships, notably Mike’s inevitable relationship with Brooke, are palpable without being corny or overdone.
Soderbergh’s last two films have been deadly serious, but Magic Mike returns him to his more playful, lighthearted side. Even with social critiques built in, it comes and goes without major incident, and is entertaining without being over the top. Like many Hollywood films, most of the characters are male and only one major side character is female. Unlike most of them, though, their bodies are on display instead of hers.