Within the space of a year he has directed Contagion, Haywire and mostly recently a film based on the experiences of Channing Tatum as a stripper, Magic Mike. Not bad for someone who regularly toys with the idea of retirement. Tatum is Mike, a day labourer and roof tiller by day, by night he’s one of Tampa Bay’s most successful strippers. Disenchanted with his life, Mike is looking into new endeavours principally his custom furniture company. One day on the construction site, Mike is burdened with the responsibility of looking after Adam (Pettyfer), a college dropout who wants the success but doesn’t have the zest to put in the work.
Turning up to a construction site in Tennis shoes Adam is the typical waster, much to his sister Brook’s (Horn) frustration. One night, his sister takes Adam out in the hope that he’ll ask her friend for work. Quickly growing bored, Adam disappears into the night. In a moment of serendipity, he notices Mike. After a series of chances and contrivances, Adam is initiated into the world of stripping and from there on in he becomes immersed in the debauchery and excess of Mike’s lifestyle. Story-wise this isn’t anything fresh or new, if anything it is clichéd specifically when drugs make a late entry.
Adam (Alex Pettyfer) may be presented with an arc, but he is here as a way in (a plot device), there can be no doubt that this is Mike’s story. Adam, club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), and Brooke (Cody Horn) are a means to impose a push/pull dynamic on the future of “Magic” Mike Martingano. Adam represents the allure of the lifestyle, he is the past. The resurgent Matthew McConaughey represents the future that Mike could have making money behind the curtains. Finally, Brook represents escape, a life away from the ‘vampires’ and his dream of a custom furniture business.
This interpretation culminates in one outcome, Stephen Soderbergh and Channing Tatum’s collaboration is a character study that looks at different phases of masculinity. One housed within an exploitation film of flesh and grinding male torso’s matched together with a lightly comedic drama. With so many angles pulling the film in so many angles, it would be easy for the ambitions to outweigh the outcome. At face value this is a film about greased up muscle-bound men taking their clothes off, and if that appeals to you, Magic Mike doesn’t disappoint. Secondary to the spectacle there is a touching modest, funny drama.
Although a world away from a gritty expose, Soderbergh paints the film with a hue of reality. As ever, he does the cinematography and he daubs Tampa Bay with a faded, sand blasted palette. Aside from the imagery, the economic crash is persistent company. Mike and his fellow stripping fraternity are trying their best to get all the money they can. Dallas is trying to move forward to where the real money is and Adam is the young generation out of work. It’s an influence, one that feels like more than a plot device, never wholly explored. Such a deficiency is a wasted opportunity; its inclusion would have helped justify the running time and languid pacing with a little more meat on the bone.
Overlong, yes, but always engaging on some level thanks to three of the four main players. The only one of the four to let the team down is Alex Pettyfer, who is one of the most consistently inept actors working. Tatum, McConaughey and Horn make the film. McConaughey, although under-used, is continuing the resurgence of his career as an obnoxious and fiercely proud club owner, the film peaks whenever he is on-screen.
Horn and Tatum have the same relaxed demeanour; it’s almost as it they aren’t acting – almost but not quite. The relatively unknown Horn exudes the same naturalist pacing as Tatum, although not overly cinematic they work well together. As for Tatum, whenever he dances or takes things causal he is great. When the drama is heightened he reveals his limitations as an actor. In one scene he fumbles his lines adding a naturalist aura; on the other side of the coin he feels capable of putting any great emotion into his delivery. The only real passion comes from Dallas, and he appears all too rarely.
The ‘Chaning Tatum stripping film’ has more going for it than one could expect, with its universal message for our time and a thoughtful look into masculinity. Conversely, it falls into the divide between the energetic dance numbers and lethargically paced storytelling.