Details: (MA15+), 109 mins, In Cinemas 26 July 2012, United States, English
Synopsis: An upstart male stripper (Alex Pettyfer) is taken under the wing of his more experienced colleagues (Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum).
All-male strip flick sparkles to a fizzling finale.
There are countless cutaways to squealing ladies being courted by performers in (and out of) a veritable Village People of guises.
The plot of Steven Soderbergh’s stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold tale follows the tropes of the ‘backstage’ movie to a T: A nice guy with a killer backflip works his pants off, literally, in order to bankroll his own American Dream. Over the course of a summer he takes a naïve newbie hunk under his wing, and learns a few life lessons in the process. It’s all familiar territory, but savvy Soderbergh knows that very few people are going to this movie for the storyline. As indeed does the film’s distributor, Roadshow; the advance screening I attended featured a pre-film ‘performance’ from two buff lads who dry-humped several unsuspecting cinema patrons who lacked the presence of mind to avoid the aisle seat…
The writer/director shows flashes of whimsy with Magic Mike, the type that was absent from his last foray into the skin trade, the dour The Girlfriend Experience. There’s playful banter and self-deprecation aplenty, perhaps best expressed in Matthew McConaughy’s tutelage of a newbie stripper to the ways of bump ‘n’ grind.
Continuing his career hot streak, McConaughey isn’t backward in coming forwards (or, for that matter, sideways) in his role as Dallas, the den daddy of Club Xquisite, a Chippendales-like revue he runs out of a rented space in Tampa. As ringmaster, McConaughey sets the tone in the opening scene, with a winking rundown of the establishment’s ‘no touching’ guidelines. McConaughey goes on to steal the movie from star Channing Tatum (‘Mike’), with riffs on his own pop culture heritage, from his Dazed and Confused dialogue (“All right all right all right…”), to his infamous predilection for bongo drums.
Dallas is Mike's friend, mentor, and business associate, and has a keen awareness of the value of his product and its audience. He and Mike hatch a plan to take Xquisite to the Big Time and Bigger Money, pending successful Miami real estate negotiations.
Our first glimpse of Mike comes courtesy of his moneymaker – his bare buttocks, as he wakes from a threesome, and leaves his ladies to hang at his house while he toils at one of his many day jobs (roofing contractor, car detailer etc). On a building site, he befriends hapless college dropout Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and later, on the Tampa club strip, the 19-year-old is but one of the clubbers attracted to Mike’s charisma. Sensing something about ‘The Kid’, Mike lands him a stagehand job at Xquisite, where Mike headlines three nights a week. Wary Adam meets the other Xquisite dancers – Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) – and cops an eyeful as he watches Mike and the boys clutch and thrust umbrellas with intent, in a flashy opening number, set to [What else?] ‘It’s Raining Men’. When Tarzan later passes out on ‘jungle juice’ and they need a warm body out on stage, Mike and Dallas take a punt and shove Adam into the limelight in his civvies, where he shyly drops hoodie and trou to [What else?} ‘Like a Virgin’… the liquored-up ladies love it, of course, taking his nerves for a choreographed part of the act. So begins Adam’s initiation into Mike’s world, where, like a contact high, a little of the magic starts to rub off onto him, much to his disapproving sister, Brooke (Cody Horn)’s chagrin.
The strips themselves, of which there are many, boast production values that bely Club Xquisite’s cheap plastic banner, with spotlighting and dry ice, and the wocka-wocka R&B of Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ booming in full surround sound.
There are countless cutaways to squealing ladies being courted by performers in (and out of) a veritable Village People of guises (fireman, construction worker and curiously, a paramedic with guerney). In a nod to the occupational hazards of the job, we see Big Dick Richie almost throw his back out whilst flipping a hefty volunteer. And at Xquisite, every night is strictly ladies night, FYI – the film contains zero acknowledgement of the appeal that a bunch of ripped men taking their clothes off might have for a queer crowd. That said, Dallas’ sexuality is never clearly defined, but the lack of any queer reference whatsoever seems a diss to a sizeable portion of the film’s target market.
Soderbergh keeps the rose-coloured glasses on for the first two-thirds of the film, establishing almost to the point of overstatement, the enjoyment these boys derive from their night-time livelihood and each other’s company. (If there’s a take-home message it’s that those who strip together, quip together.) Everyone’s so gosh-darned friendly in this game, it seems, and if they can earn a tidy sum in singles every night then where’s the harm? Well, wherever it is, it takes its sweet time to darken the doorstep of Club Xquisite... It’s about 75 minutes into Magic Mike before this fleshy fantasy gives any hint of the seedy side of stripping, and when it finally arrives, it makes for a clumsy gear change. Soderbergh heralds his ‘Just say no to drugs’ storyline with no less a movie metaphor than a raging summer hurricane, and the ensuing ‘backpack of pills’ plot is one helluva buzzkill that feels forced and unconvincing.
Though less trashy than Showgirls, and more fleshy than Pretty Woman, Magic Mike shares the same trajectory. In mentoring The Kid, and slowly falling for Brooke, Mike’s magic starts to lose a little of its lustre, and, much as he tries to turn on the charm, he finds a bashful female loan officer all-but immune when a bad credit rating wrecks his chances of hanging up his red g-string and establishing a bespoke furniture concern.
As Mike, Tatum is a pillar of integrity, a hard-working stud with his eyes on the end game. Much is made of the fact Mike keeps his truck's chrome dash pristine under the factory seal (to maximize resale value) but it's Soderbergh's fingerprints that are all over these glimpses at the character's wider anxieties.
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