The reviews are pretty wildly mixed on Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s new roman à clef on Channing Tatum’s once-disreputable-now-vanguard previous career as a stripper. Some love it, some loathe it, some are all “Gah, bare flesh pecs on screen drool cup need quick!!”
Go figure. A movie about good-looking men baring their chiseled abs and the (predominately male) critical establishment suddenly acts like they’re in the presence of 2001‘s obelisk. I know, I’m being glib, but so are the groups of desperate housewives and cliques of gay men all planning group outings this weekend to catch the nude likes of Matt Bomer and Alex Pettyfer.
Suffice it to say there’s a lot more going on in Magic Mike than the ads let on, but that “lot more” is probably going to make a lot of its target audience wish there was less.
Apparently, some critics think they actually did see less. For instance, the Hollywood Reporter: “Arguably the raunchiest, funniest and most enjoyably nonjudgmental American movie about selling sex since Boogie Nights.”
Though there are moments both raunchy and funny in Magic Mike, I call shenanigans on the line of thought that would see this movie (or Boogie Nights, for that matter) as nonjudgmental about, to paraphrase Cristal Connors, making the cash, cashing the checks and showing them what they want to see.
There is likely still a great, mass-market movie to be made about the world’s oldest profession, and all its offshoots, also being potentially the world’s most fun profession, while still remaining on the near side of being a Disney fantasy (i.e. Pretty Woman). But Magic Mike is not that movie.
It starts out well enough. Separated into three chapters — June, July, August — the movie follows Mike (Tatum) as he ropes promising young buck Adam into the fold as a male stripper at the Xquisite nightclub in Tampa. Adam, working under the moniker “The Kid,” takes to the proverbial pole like a duck (or Jennifer Beals) to water, but his sister and unofficial guardian Brooke (Cody Horn) is hardly taken with his new gig, nouveau riche paper-stacking aside. Which is a problem given Mike has an eye for her.
The fact that Mike could apparently have any woman in the metro area who owns a pair of platform pumps but wants Brooke — a stern, uptight, prudish presence — gives away the movie’s slightly disappointing lack of moral turpitude. Of course he wants her, because she’s the only person in his universe who understands what he has been only subconsciously aware of: that stripping is a terrible way to make ends meet.
If the script by Reid Carolin doesn’t exactly preach, it sure does suggest the pitfalls of the trade. In contrast, director Soderbergh does a nice job accentuating but not underlining both the scenario’s attractive qualities (he films Tatum’s solo number to Ginuwine’s k-classic sex jam “Pony” as though it were Cleopatra’s arrival in Rome) as well as its limitations, chief among them the fact that the Xquisite nightclub is very obviously a two-bit joint well off the town’s main drag.
Throughout June and most of July, Soderbergh’s direction has a nice, unforced fly-on-the-wall observationalism about the world of male stripping. It’s August that puts the entire proceedings straight under the jets of a very cold shower. Yeah, conflict is at the heart of drama, but is it off-base for me to surmise that most of Magic Mike‘s audience would’ve been just as entertained by a movie that presents six or seven hot guys grinding to sultry ’90s R&B? C’mon, Hollywood. Girls just wanna have fun!
As it stands, though, Magic Mike is a nice turn of the tables in how gleefully it exploits the erotic properties of one specific type of male form, and benefits from Soderbergh’s lack of sensationalism. Bring singles, but leave the $20s at home.