I really gotta start doing more sit-ups.
The high quality and sheer volume of male flesh on display in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is enough to seduce most anyone, even the most staunchly heterosexual of men. Like chiseled ice cream, actors like Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and the lord of shirtlessness himself Matthew McConaughey, parade around the screen like preening, hunky flamingos, narcissistically celebrating the peerless quality of their own abs for teams of hysterical screaming female extras. Magic Mike shies away from any whiffs of gay panic, and (for the first third, anyway) depicts these beefcake cocks of the walk as charming, talented demigods who stay up every night partying and seducing their enthused clients, having foursomes, and feeding ecstasy (in both senses of the word) to sorority girls.
Of course, heavy drugs eventually enter the picture, and things eventually go south for our young charge Adam (Pettyfer), nicknamed “The Kid,” a 19-year-old college dropout who finds financial salvation dancing on stage with Mike (Tatum) and other hunks (Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Kevin Nash as Tarzan) at Xquisite, a Tampa Bay strip joint run by the supremely egotistical Dallas (McConaughey). Adam finds the stripping lifestyle to be right up his alley, and finds the instant lure of sex and drugs to be his cup of tea. Mike gives him all kinds of practical advice, like who gets how much of what tips, the best ways to dance, and how you should never ask about the occupation of any woman named after a flower or a car. It’s not until the appearance of the creepy, pink-haired Nora (Riley Keough), who takes pills and nurses a piglet at parties, that the audience begins to see Adam entering a dark place. This is all to the chagrin of Alex’s doting big sister Brooke (Cody Horn), who may or may not be falling in love with Mike. Mike, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the life, and isn’t getting emotional fulfillment from his minxy bisexual would-be girlfriend (Olivia Munn) who is more interested in threesomes than a relationship.
The story of Magic Mike is pure hooey. It’s the typical showbiz arc about the young out-of-town up-and-comer who is seduced by big city fame, complete with sex and drugs. It’s Showgirls for girls, but with its camp knob tuned to a much more tolerable and skilled frequency. Like Soderbergh’s own Haywire from earlier this year, and, it could be argued, his Contagion, Magic Mike seems to be taking a rather pedestrian and well-known genre conceit, scripted in a pretty typical fashion, and filtering it through Soderbergh’s own naturalistic and digital gold-lit style. Frankly, I love it. The magical combination of Soderbergh’s classy imprimatur, a hokey plot, and no small amount of oiled abs, well, it’s catnip. It’s exactly the film you hope it will be. It’s hard not to giggle and applaud during Magic Mike.
Channing Tatum proves, with this film and with the surprisingly entertaining 21 Jump Street from earlier this year, that he is no mere hunk-for-hire, but is actually a really funny performer. He is slowly turning into one of those actors who, like George Clooney or Charlize Theron, you want to resent for being both talented and extremely good looking, but can’t bring yourself to hate because they’re also so bloody charming and intelligent. Tatum is actually telling his own autobiography with Magic Mike, as he entered into the dry-humping, pelvic-thrusting universe of male stripping at age 19, and only left to start acting. Pettyfer plays the Tatum role, and Tatum plays, I’m guessing, a real-life mentor of himself, who gets screwed over in a spectacular way. Magic Mike, I sensed, was a form of penance. If such a mentor really exists, Tatum has not forgotten him.
Matthew McConaughey gives one of the more appealing performances of his career as Dallas, the supreme narcissist in a room full of them. McConaughey has always has a kind of slimy, self-obsessed appeal, and, as Dallas, he is allowed to bring all his shirtless, mirror-kissing instincts to the fore. He swings for the walls. Dallas has, in his house, a portrait of himself wearing leather pants, a cowboy hat, and a python. We believe that Dallas would actually own something like that.
As a girl’s night out, Magic Mike is ideally suited. As a feature film, it’s really rather entertaining and well-thought-out. It’s pretty awesome.