Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey • Directed by Steven Soderbergh • Age restriction: 16DSLN • Releases 20 July
I have no shame in admitting that a large draw card for Magic Mike was the sheer amount of eye candy on offer in the trailer – and the fact that Steven Soderbergh was at the helm completely sweetened the deal.
In reality, while there’s a fair amount of skin on offer and some sizzling dance routines, Magic Mike is so much more than a movie about strippers. It’s a film about aging and self-discovery, and above all, it’s a compelling human drama.
Mike (Channing Tatum) is not just a stripper. He’s an entrepreneur, working a number of jobs to save up for the grand dream: his own custom furniture business. At a construction site, he meets the pretty but pretty disinterested Adam (Alex Pettyfer), whose sense of self-entitlement means he can’t (or won’t) find himself a job. Mike sees a spark in Adam and introduces him to Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) – the leader of an all-male dance revue that he dubs the “cock-rocking kings of Tampa”. They’re a group of male strippers at a club called Xquisite, catering to crowds of hysterical females out for a glimpse of forbidden flesh – and on his first night out, 19-year-old Adam – dubbed the Kid – is thrust out on stage to strip, to the aptly chosen Like a Virgin.
Dallas, like Mike, sees something in the Kid – and he’s quickly amalgamated into the group. The Kid falls in love with the scene – drinking, women, partying, drugs – something his older, overprotective sister Brooke (Cody Horn) doesn’t approve of. Mike promises to keep the Kid safe, but as Adam gets more confident on stage, he takes more risks and gets deeper into trouble.
The film is powerfully kinetic – even when the boys aren’t shaking their ridiculousy toned cheeks on stage. The interactions between the characters – Mike and Brooke, and Mike and Dallas, in particular – are complex and taut, and carefully considered; while the backstage sequences at the club are chaotic and fascinating: one never really knows who to look at, which conversation to tune in to.
At the heart of the film is Tatum, who provides a quality performance. He’s gradually breaking out of the just-for-looks role and builds on the great work he did in 21 Jump Street. In Magic Mike, Tatum is intense and sincere, completely absorbed into the film, which he co-produced.
In contrast, Pettyfer is almost entirely disconnected from the film. His role – based on Tatum’s own experiences as a stripper, early in his career – provides the catalyst for the film’s biggest moments, yet somehow Pettyfer manages to miss eliciting a truly emotional reaction. While he is very pretty to look at, it’s not really enough – he never takes the Kid as far as he could, and it means that scenes that should be high points of the film seem somehow empty.
The rest of the cast, led by a sterling McConaughey, provides some solid supporting performances. As the owner of the club, McConaughey is sexy and scene-stealing, cooing at the audience in his leathers and cowboy hat. With his eye set on the prize – a bigger, better club in Miami, Dallas is out for himself as much as he promises to be out for his boy. He’s a somewhat tragic figure – rapidly aging, ushering a new generation of men in front of him, desperate to remain relevant. Horn as Brooke is well-cast: she’s intense, strict and rigid – the perfect counterpoint to Mike’s laidback approach, and their chemistry is superb. She is, at times, a little too much – but as the film progresses and she is given more to work with, she finds her stride.
And the rest of the eye candy? Well, they may not have much to do besides look pretty, but my goodness, do they succeed. True Blood star Joe Manganiello and White Collar’s Matt Bomer lead the charge as Big Dick Richie and Ken, and are joined by Kevin Nash and CSI’s Adam Rodriguez.
In Magic Mike, much like last year’s Contagion, Soderbergh masterfully creates a variety of intense atmospheres, skipping easily from the eye-popping, heart-pounding scenes at the club to the painfully quiet, almost documentary-style conversations between Brooke and Mike. Shooting under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews, Soderbergh manages to mix the hyper-real bright lights and even brighter colours of the stage – in which the boys put on crazy, imaginative personas that are more than a little humiliating and include firemen, swat teams, hospital personnel and Tarzan, king of the jungle – and mixing it with warm and gritty shots of the outside world. This film is visually strong and handsomely shot, and combined with an intelligent script, make Magic Mike more than a film about men getting their kit off: it’s a film about real people on a journey of real self-discovery.
As it tries to straddle this line, though, it manages to slip under the weight of its own ambitions – never quite reaching its full potential. But while Magic Mike will no doubt disappoint some viewers expecting the cinematic equivalent of a bachelorette party, it’s one of the better surprises I’ve had at the cinema this year: a rare combination of sexy, fun and smart, and only a little sleaze.