Film Review: Magic MikeShoulda been big fun, but a deadly combination of no script and a strange lack of sexiness renders this male-stripper tale an aimless, although very commercially calculated, bore.
In Tampa, Florida, Mike (Channing Tatum) makes money any way he can, trying to finance his dream of designing his own line of furniture: roofing, car detailing, stripping. That last-mentioned occupation he pursues at Club Xquisite, where he’s been the resident star for years with his killer bod and moves. When he meets a 19-year-old slacker, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), he takes the comely lad under his wing and shows him the ropes of male clothing removal, with the grudging assent of his indefatigably strutting, avaricious boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Adam has a sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), who’s initially appalled by little bro’s new job, as well as by Mike, but soon repulsion turns into romantic convulsion.
With the summer need for light entertainment and a loosening up of male onscreen nudity in commercial films spearheaded by Judd Apatow, Magic Mike very well might have been a delectable, equal-opportunity erotic entertainment, aimed at the ladies as well as a whole lotta gay men. Unfortunately, Steven Soderbergh has been sorely miscast as a director for a project that screamed out for the likes of an Almodóvar, or Baz Luhrmann at the very least. The entire thing shrieks of a weirdly retro quality—its basic lack of hipness (vide, that clueless club name, for example) makes it more fit for a slightly salacious TV movie of the week, c. 1983. (Remember Christopher Atkins and Lesley Ann Warren in A Night in Heaven, which, compared to this film, is a masterpiece of emotional/character observation?) For all the bared muscled torsos and butts, and pandering, “compensating” plethora of female nudity, the film is weirdly sexless, making Soderbergh seem very much like that voyeuristic but denatured James Spader character in his breakout Sex, Lies, and Videotape. There’s a character named “Big Dick Richie” (Joe Manganiello), but, apart from a highly suspect shot of a penis pump in active use, all such stuff has to be taken strictly on faith, in 2012. In an R-rated film. About male strippers.
Reid Carolin‘s script is very thin, heavily relying on the same old backstage clichés which have recurred in movies from 42nd Street to Burlesque, and giving super-short shrift to Adam’s development as a star dancer. (It’s the swiftest, most unconvincing rise since Janet Gaynor in the 1937 A Star is Born.) His arc is basically: Boy makes good, gets caught up in bad behavior (with drugs provided by a helpful, peripheral minority character), and o.d.’s, with a tiresomely moralistic ending about the wages of sin that one would have thought died out with Cecil B. DeMille.
The movie also has a major continuity glitch in Adam’s o.d. scene. There’s a shot of a girl he was partying with, and she obviously looks dead, but nothing at all is made of it. Much of the film seems rather lamely improvised anyway, especially in the way-over-the top McConaughey’s numerous embarrassing, “hot-blooded” rants about his métier. There’s a surfeit of aimless, winkingly romantic encounters between producer Tatum and the very tomboyish Horn, who, by the way, shares zero chemistry with this hunka-hunka.
The strip numbers themselves, ostensibly the very reason for this film’s existence, are cursorily, unimaginatively filmed to indifferent cover versions of pop songs, and often end abruptly, as if the skittish director were all too ready to move on to something not involving male pulchritude, like another dull dialogue scene. Besides Mike and Adam, the other dancers are not a very impressive lot, in this age when so much of the American male population practically lives at the gym.
The one iota of authenticity here is Tatum’s dancing. The actor did indeed perform thusly earlier in life, and he really sizzles onscreen, with an exhilarating athleticism that also manages to be smooth as a snake and ten times as sexy. “It’s Raining Men” has to be one of the top three cheesiest songs ever, but when you see Tatum writhing funkily to it, you think, “He’s got more soul than any white boy in film history, and that includes Elvis, Travolta, Gene Kelly, Cagney and Jolson.”