Steven Soderbergh is at it again, subverting our expectations with a conventional commercial film - a male stripper movie featuring Channing Tatum as a top-drawer stripper who really just wants to start his own furniture business and leave the often sordid, yet sexy and fast-paced lifestyle behind. As usual, Soderbergh is able to make the ordinary seem somewhat interesting and unique with his relaxed directorial style. It partially succeeds, but it often falls victim to inconsistency in tone and character. But as a vehicle for Tatum and his talents as an actor, dancer and hot bod movie star, the film succeeds.
Magic Mike (2012) dir. Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn
By Alan Bacchus
The plotting takes us through the familiar route to fame and fortune in the seedy entertainment business, situating itself somewhere between Boogie Nights and 54. Channing Tatum plays Mike, an entrepreneur and hot shot in Tampa Bay, Florida, who tiles roofs, runs a car detailing business and aspires to be a creator of premium furniture. But his best talent is dancing, as he leads a team of male strippers in a very popular nightclub. Before we even see Tatum flash his wares we see him meet Adam, a young man with no career prospects, on his roofing job site. Mike takes him under his wing, and through Adam's virgin eyes we see the world of the strip club. Eventually, Adam finds himself on stage learning the ropes of stripping.
Tatum’s presence and charisma are so strong that he overwhelms everyone else, specifically Alex Pettyfer as Adam. Adam's side plot as a green newbie who finds himself on the dark side of the business engaging in drug use and gangster activities falls into the background. Even the romantic plotting of Adam’s sister, Joanna (Munn), who harbours a contrived fraternal overprotection of Adam, is undercooked.
Soderbergh directs the film with his typical understated and relaxed style. It results in a unique situational realism. Soderbergh’s tone is undermined by Reid Carolyn’s script, which turns melodramatic much too suddenly in a number of places. It forces Soderbergh to reluctantly turn a corner when he wanted to go in the other direction. Matthew McConaughey’s character, seen largely as a fun and affable boob, turns inexplicably sinister for one scene, and Adam’s betrayal and Mike’s subsequent bailout feel like they're from another film Soderbergh forgot to make.
But it’s the half-dozen or so tremendously exciting choreographed dance scenes that anchor the film. The sequences showcase the talents that launched Tatum in the film Step It Up in 2006. The raunchy bass-pumping music laid over the reaction shots of screaming girls deifies Mike as a near godlike embodiment of masculine allure. It's an attention Tatum accepts with a strong sense of humility as well - a unique quality in a movie star.
And really that’s all anyone wanted or expected from the film.
That said, it brings up a consistent frustration with Soderbergh, at one time one of the most exciting American filmmakers. It now seems like he's coasting on substandard and forgettable material. Will we ever see a film like Traffic or Sex, Lies, and Videotape again?