Despite gaudy club scenes, ‘Magic Mike’ recalls director’s early indie films.
Steven Soderbergh directing a film about male strippers? What’s up with that? With the release of Magic Mike, based loosely on star Channing Tatum’s early career as a 19-year-old male exotic dancer in Florida, we now have the answer. It was Soderbergh’s chance to return to his roots when he rocked the festival circuit/independent film scene with sex, lies and videotape.
On the surface, Magic Mike is a glitzy, titillating look at the world of male strippers with hunky men shaking their booty and other body parts in the face of ladies looking for a cheap thrill and something to fantasize about.
For Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) it’s a living and a lifestyle that allows him to enjoy casual sex and the big lie, the self-delusional notion that because he gets 7.5 percent of the cover charge at the club, and has side jobs in construction and as a furniture maker, he is an entrepreneur. He is not defined by his life as a stripper.
Mike meets a slacker 19-year-old at a construction site, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and takes a shine to the kid, who reminds him perhaps of his teen years. He takes the kid under his wing and decides to show him the ropes of the bump and grind life. However, there is a complication; Adam has a sister (Cody Horn) with a keen eye for detecting bullshit artists and a firm grip on reality. Naturally Mike likes her and while the feeling is mutual, that bullshit detector keeps her at a distance.
Mike has been so wrapped up in this private world of the stripper’s life with its own set of rules, he seems surprised when the reality beyond his cocoon intrudes. A scene where he tries to get a bank loan for his furniture business (his designs are ugly), is a humiliating example. Because all his jobs are cash, he has a lousy credit rating and gets shot down. We suspect he’s done it before and keeps thinking a different bank will see his worth and back him.
Soderbergh shoots all the outdoor scenes in natural light, a bit faded and washed out. Mike’s magic only seems to work under the hot lights of the club, and when the kid turns out to be a thoughtless, selfish jerk, Mike begins to understand the emptiness of his life.
Soderbergh’s film most closely resembles Boogie Nights in its depiction of an alternative lifestyle world in which the participants don’t understand that their lifestyle horrifies the people beyond their inner circle. They see their life of sex, drugs and titillating strangers as normal and fun.
Channing Tatum has been climbing the A-list ladder with more quality roles of late, and Magic Mike is yet another big step in his development as one of the most intriguing actors in Hollywood at the moment. There is also a nice turn by Matthew McConaughey as the owner of the club who blissfully exploits his boys and turns on Mike when he has the nerve to suggest he deserve better. Screen newcomer Horn provides a naturalistic performance as the woman whose love Mike covets, and Pettyfer finally has a role to make us forget Beastly and I Am Number Four. We don’t get to find out much about the other strippers, but the eye candy patrol is impressive with True Blood’s Joe Manganiello, White Collar’s Matt Bomer and CSI Miami’s Adam Rodriguez.
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