An upstart male stripper is taken under the wing of a more experienced colleagues.
If the only role Channing Tatum is capable bringing anything like charisma, humanism and likeability to an aging male stripper, we still get a good movie out of it and that is almost worth all of the “Dear Johns” in the world.
Tatum is Magic Mike Lane, the lead draw for Xquisite, a Tampa strip club, but he’ll be the first to say that’s not what he is. He is in his heart a craftsman, be it as a roofer, a mechanic or his favored past time of making one-of-a-kind found art furniture. Like a lot of young men he found himself in desperate circumstances once and turned to stripping to make ends meet. Now getting older and relatively successful he attempts to do the same for young Adam (Alex Pettyfer), opening Adam up to the world of male stripping and Mike up to Adam’s sister and a world of real people.
Produced by Tatum and based in part on his real life experience as a stripper, Stephen Soderbergh’s newest venture is a sort of “Boogie Nights”-lite, an assay into a sordid world of sex and drugs without personal connection or responsibility and what it does to the people involved in it.
Which may sound like a sort of back-handed compliment but is in fact quite entertaining in practice. Though Reid Carolin’s screenplay doesn’t deviate too far from the sort of “A Star Is Born” structure these kinds of films thrive on, he has instilled his main characters with a fair amount of humanism and even a little complexity, without ever getting too dark to keep Soderbergh from being able to make a joke out of the thing.
The ‘Star’ in question is The Kid (Pettyfer) – in the most literal nickname ever – an aimless 19-year-old Mike decides to help out by offering a job at the club he works at. When one of the shows stars is unable to perform, Mike and club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) throw the Kid out onto the stage where to everyone’s surprise he turns out to be a natural. Cue male stripper montage.
In between the misadventures at the club and during frequent parties, though, we get occasional hints at the loneliness afflicting these party people which gives “Magic Mike” its real heft. As Mike gradually begins to get to know Adam and his sister, and connects with her more and more, he can no longer avoid the feeling that he wants more out of life than the odd one night stands he has with a local graduate student (Olivia Munn) and which the life he has known will probably not provide for him.
And Tatum, bless him, for the first time ever portrays an actual human being on stage. “Magic Mike” is his to carry and for the most part he does, with only McConaughey’s frat boy sleaziness able to keep up with him. The rest of the time he owns his scenes, whether as charismatic party boy or flawed lonely human. I don’t know if that means he will one day actually be an actor or not, but it’s good to know he is actually capable of it.
Definitely more comedy than drama, “Magic Mike” begins to take a sliding turn to the dark side at the halfway mark as Adam begins to realize just how big a screw-up these cool people he hangs out with are, and decides he wants to join them. That’s also one of the few downsides to the film as everyone else besides Tatum and McConaughey are extremely hit and miss. On the stage this seems to be an intentional joke as it is quickly clear that no one besides Tatum can actually dance. (There is something indescribably strange about watching Kevin Nash lurch about a stage like a zombie trying to figure out where he should be going and what he should be doing to the tune of ‘It’s Raining Men’). But it also holds true within the rest of the film. Pettyfer in particular is more prop than actor, standing around and watching others and offering very little in return.
All in all though, “Magic Mike” is funny and engaging, even if it gives a bit too light a touch to its surrounding seediness to be really dramatic. A good script, sure direction, and a star turn by Tatum may not be enough to make it ‘the Citizen Kane of stripper movies’ but you do get isn’t half bad.