The most surprising thing about Magic Mike isn’t the plethora of gyrating hips, penis pumps, and greasy banana hammocks on display but how good Channing Tatum can be when paired with the right filmmaker. The director in question here is the great Steven Soderbergh. Like Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese, Soderbergh is a filmmaker who tends to bring out the best in his actors – he did it with Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), with Benicio Del Toro (Traffic & Che), and he does it again with Tatum.
Tatum, who’s having a banner year with the success of March’s excellent 21 Jump Street and now this drama, is so charming, charismatic and appealing here that it should single-handedly build his reputation in the industry from disposable eye-candy into a truly talented leading man. Of course, considering that the film was inspired by Tatum’s brief stint as a stripper in the late 90s, one could argue that he’s merely playing himself. Regardless, this is wonderful work from a guy whose previous credits have been anything but.
Tatum plays Mike, an entrepreneurial 30-something who spends his days working at a roofing business and running a small-time car-detailing gig. Its decent money but hardly anything that’ll help him set up his dream job – crafting custom-made furniture. To finance that dream, he turns to stripping – an addicting career choice that he excels at and unsurprisingly, enjoys a lot. I mean, what’s not to love? He makes a ton of money, is objectified by 100s of women, and gets to bed one (sometimes more) almost every night of the week. What guy wouldn’t want that?
Indeed, it’s that allure that attracts Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a wayward unemployed 19-year-old college dropout, to the stripping business after meeting Mike at a roofing gig one summer. Sensing potential, Mike soon takes Adam under his wing, to the dismay of the kid’s disapproving older sister Brooke (the adorable Cody Horn). Using Adam as our proxy and Mike as our guide, Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin expertly usher us into the world of male strippers, showing us the ropes of the business, feeding us with the perks of their lifestyle, and giving us details of what goes on backstage before and during each show. The shows themselves are a blast of energy – exciting and a whole lot of fun. When I say women are going to lose their marbles during those scenes, trust me!
They’re also bound to swoon over Mike and his co-workers who are played, among others, by Matthew Bomer, Joe Manganiello, and Matthew Mcconaughey who delivers an outrageous scene-stealing performance. Magic Mike may be based on Tatum’s life experiences but you can tell that McConaughey, who has been going through a career resurgence of late with The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe and the upcoming Mud, is the one who’s having the most fun.
Eventually though, all good things come to an end, and Mike learns it the hard way. Unfortunately, it’s in this last act that the film starts to lose steam too – venturing into previously threaded ultra-serious territory that depicts the world of stripping as just another career where excessive sex, drugs and criminals threaten to destroy everything. Although, it isn’t a fatal blow – Soderbergh and Carolin are far too smart to let things go off-rails – it muddles the impact of the film. Nevertheless, for a majority of its runtime, Magic Mike is vastly enjoyable, charismatically performed, and far better than it had any right to be. Don’t miss it.