‘Magic Mike’: A shaky moneymaker?
Opening with a shot of Channing Tatum’s bare ass on the back end (pun totally intended) of a ménage à trois sets a deceptive tone to Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s highly anticipated film, Magic Mike. Though the drama, based loosely on Tatum’s brief six-month stint as a stripper at 18 before making the move to acting, addresses sex, drugs and stacks of one-dollar bills in the oiled, penis-pumping world of male strippers, it doesn’t sink like a stone to its acidic underbelly. A taut drama, however sparing lightly on clichés, develops about one man’s desperation to somehow connect outside of his own existence.
Filmed effectively under a cigar-hazed Tampa sky askew the dank clamminess of a loin-ablazed strip club, Magic Mike centers around an entrepreneurial superstud named Mike (Tatum), whose mystique on the stage tends to hold him back in his personal life. Big-hearted, as Mike is though, he takes a sheltered, unskilled 19-year-old (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, quickly finding a proverbial fresh-meat lapping on “The Kid” when he pushes him onto the stage after Tarzan (WWF’s Kevin Nash) passes out backstage, putting a damper on the evening’s all-male revue. (Didn’t something similar also set the stage in Cabaret.) “Hey Mike, I think we should be best friends,” The Kid heartily offers in hindsight.
The Kid’s protective older sister Brooke, richly played by Cody Horn, struggles internally between being disgusted by Mike’s recruitment of her brother and intrigued by his spirited charm. Even while becoming akin to Mike’s aspirations, Brooke keeps him at arm’s length, and still yet trusts his testimonial on behalf of her brother’s well-being. This, however, is an example of where the film is flawed. Reid Carolin, in his first produced screenplay, lacks in delineation of his main characters’ drive – and because I was so intrigued by Horn’s performance – particularly in Brooke. A string of events over a mere three month period, damages a seemingly rooted brother-sister bond with no more compassion than a shrug-off.
Plus, other than the minimal development of The Kid’s character into the dark side of stripping, and the uneven flirtation between Mike and Brooke, there is little more presented about the characters – other than Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the owner of Club Xquisite with an I’m-hot-as-shit swagger, which obviously is not a stretch for the typecast actor (refreshingly, this time there’s a wide-eyed goofiness and a guitar used in it), the supporting cast of strippers, known as the “Cock Rockin’ Kings,” are basically nonexistent – but yes, you’ll enjoy ’em when you see ’em!
Tatum could possibly have been the defining influence over Soderbergh, who recently directed Tatum in Haywire, for taking on this project. And he is its saving grace … well, other than Tatum’s mesmerizing presence. What I like about Soderbergh is he can get his cast to pull the rawness, the mundane, the essence out of any character and uses them as a treble, securely hooking the audience. You may not be surprised by where the story doesn’t go in Magic Mike, but you’ll nonetheless appreciate the journey to some degree … please, hot male strippers, of course you will.