Reigning men on a physical, philosophical and psychological level, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike also completes the transformation of Channing Tatum from mumbling toy-boy to thinking man’s beefcake.
Tatum is just having one of those years. After sweeping viewers off their feet in The Vow and cracking them up in 21 Jump Street, Tatum has now cornered the dramatic market with Magic Mike, earning enough street cred that will cease men from groaning when their lady wants to drink in the latest Tatum release at the multiplexes.
Yet Tatum is used to rising above adversity. Before he was an actor, he had an eight month stint as a stripper with Magic Mike based on Tatum’s life in a thong. Intrigued by Tatum’s past was Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh, who has dealt with matters of the flesh before in Sex, Lies and Videotape and The Girlfriend Experience (which starred real life porn star Sasha Grey).
Soderbergh approaches this world of male strippers with equal parts cheeky exploitation (you can’t have a male stripper movie without male stripping) and in depth exploration into what it is that defines manhood. Is it simply a case of a man is what he does? Or should a man’s aspirations come into account as well?
These are questions asked by Tatum’s Mike, an entrepreneur with several projects in the pipeline all funded by shaking his bits and bobs at Tampa, Florida’s hottest male strip club owned by seedy business man Dallas (a perfectly cast Matthew McConaughey).
It’s when Mike takes on a directionless young man as his protégé (Alex Pettyfer) and falls in love with a nurse (Cody Horn) that he questions his standing in life, and thus begins the usual arc of character in morally questionable situation forced to correct his present to improve his future.
While plot points are familiar, Soderbergh makes them his own. That matter of fact style and dry humour is ever present, and Soderbergh still proves to have the Midas touch when evoking excellent performances from his actors.
Tatum’s physicality and easy going charm (which can easily become dreary goofiness depending on the script) is used well. Yet the best performance belongs to Matthew McConaughey, who continues his career renaissance with a performance that’s equally slimy, funny and menacing, while also taking the mickey out of himself with bongo drumming, bare chested posturing enthusiasm.
Better than some “male stripper movie”, Magic Mike has a surprising substance under its thong-on-sweaty-torso exterior.