If you asked me to list some movies that revolve around the age-old profession of stripping, it’d be no problem whatsoever. Of course, you have Showgirls and Striptease from the mid-90’s, whose VHS cassettes were the equivalent of gold dust to every teenage boy of the day; back when a) VHS was the standard, and b) this was the ultimate in semi-accessible titillation… hell, these movies pre-dated 56Kb modems for most! If you preferred a more male-centric clothes-shedding tale then there’s the British classic The Full Monty where a motley crew of unemployed guys from the UK city of Sheffield star in their own strip show. It also made Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff the sexiest song of 1997 and made Post Office queues that little bit more exciting; albeit briefly.
So now we come to Hollywood’s late rebuttal to the UK’s men’s strip show film. I wasn’t aware that a rebuttal was needed, but here it is nevertheless. Magic Mike follows the tale of the eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) – an “entrepreneur” who dabbles in tiling roofs, building unique furniture… oh, and getting down to a thong as “Magic Mike” for the gathered throngs of women baying for flesh on Thursdays through Sundays. Though Tatum is a key player in the film, it really revolves around Adam (Alex Pettyfer; I Am Number Four, In Time) who’s introduced to the business through Mike. What follows is an enjoyable, occasionally lighthearted, if not lightweight tale of the underbelly of the stripping business.
The strongest asset of this film is without doubt Tatum himself, who was once upon a time a part-time stripper. Whilst he gets to use some of his dance moves from his days in Step Up, he really showcases his abilities as an actor. In particular, his one-on-one scenes with Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) are particularly poignant; coming across as effortless and genuinely authentic – the mark of a true actor. The other “top billed” name on the posters, Matthew McConaughey, fares just as well playing Dallas: the club’s owner / MC / dancer, and primary antagonist of the film. What’s so remarkable is that Dallas is instantly dislikeable; you know from the outset that he isn’t a nice guy. Indeed, I found McConaughey‘s character in Killer Joe (reviewed here) – a guy who forces someone to perform oral sex on a KFC drumstick – to be more likeable than Dallas. It’s great to see these two actors again expanding their repertoire and avoiding the clichéd roles they’ve become synonymous with in recent years, as I’ve discussed previously.
Where the film loses its way is the fact that some of the plots seem too railroaded and scripted – you can see the eventual incidents coming from a mile off. You could predict the third act of the film before the fourth thong-clad rear is on-screen. A few decoys are deployed where you expect the plot to go down a certain alley; but overall this isn’t an example of effective smoke and mirrors. A golden era M. Night Shyamalan film this is not. And for those curious about the nudity in the film, yes you’ll see a lot of bethonged rump and guys will have that feeling that they did watching 300: “damn, I need to work out!”. McConnaughey in particular, who’s now cruised past 40, looks in remarkable shape.
Overall, Steven Soderbergh‘s (Ocean’s Eleven, Contagion, Haywire) film has its heart in the right place, but falters due to a predictable storyline. It also irritatingly leaves a number of plot threads deliberately open for the already talked about sequel. Personally, I feel that Magic Mike needs a sequel about as much as Contagion (a phage’s favourite film – the virus is the star!) does. But then again, this is Steven Soderbergh, a man who is a more than capable director, but he’s also the man that brought you the uncalled for Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen. However, it’s great to see Channing Tatum flourishing into a well-rounded actor who’s deviating from GI Joe-esque roles. The future is very bright for this guy, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.
Magic Mike proves to be more of a daytime TV magician than a David Blaine, Penn & Teller or Criss Angel: his tricks are a bit too transparent. The film’s respectable and earns its place, but it’s not playing with the big boys out in Vegas thanks to that plot. But maybe I just prefer a bit of Donna Summers’ Hot Stuff in my strip scenes, as opposed to the latest Skrillex wub-wub-athon… Now where’s my VHS player…?