Magic Mike drags us into the seedy world of male stripping. Well, it doesn’t start out seedy but it gets there real quick. We meet Mike (Channing Tatum), a Florida entrepreneur who works construction, makes custom furniture and dances out of his clothes for money. Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) on the construction site and through chance discovers that he might make a pretty good stripper. It’s the classic star is born scenario except the nineteen-year-old Adam doesn’t just threaten Mike’s place in the male stripping world, he lets Mike see that the top of the male stripping world might not be the greatest place to be.
Magic Mike isn’t too serious, even its rushed descent into the nastier bits of the lifestyle of these guys– like drugs and hit men– is relatively playful and they seem added-on as a necessity to give the movie a story. Magic Mike has a breezy cool, a trademark of director Steven Soderbergh. It’s a fun movie, if for no other reason to see the elaborate and ridiculous dance numbers with their array of themes and scenarios ranging from Tarzan to firemen. It’s a special joy to see Matthew McConaughey as the part he was perhaps born to play; Dallas, the emcee of the club and sometime performer. It has a darker side but it’s not serious about it, not in the way P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights(1997) is and that’s just fine. Magic Mike is a good-time movie for a good-time audience. Strip clubs in movies are not uncommon but they are usually displayed as sleaze dens, full of shame and indignity. The club in Magic Mike is pretty sleazy but there’s an element of campy fun; it’s hard not to watch the movie without a bemused grin on your face. The movie doesn’t beat around the bush that it’s demeaning, but the guys don’t seem to have a problem with that.
It may be about time that Aaron Sorkin writes a screenplay for Steven Soderbergh as they are both obsessed with behind the scenes and how things work. Soderbergh has some of Scorsese’s ability to clearly and interestingly show us how things work. Soderbergh has demonstrated how to rig dice, how disease is spread and contained, how perpetrated fraud on a massive scale and now how to strip for money. We see dancers sewing their g-strings, rehearsing their routines, buying their outfits, and preparing their bodies. One dancer throws his back out while tossing a woman around; a professional hazard. We see Mike and Adam dance at a private party and we see the jealous reactions of the men who were already there.
There is a romance subplot involving Mike’s pursuit of Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn) as well as the idea of Mike being passed over by Joanna (Olivia Munn) for a suitor with a more respectable job. “You are the husband they never had,” Dallas says to pump up Adam before a performance, “The beefcake that never came along.” Magic Mike seems to suggest that women will choose the otherwise even if the beefcake does come along. Considering that Tatum’s career began as a teenage stripper like Adam and that he has become a movie star based mainly on his ability to dance and his looks, I couldn’t help but thinking that he’s still performing that role of the husband they never had. What is the real difference between unreal bodies gyrating and the preternaturally devoted characters Tatum often plays in movies like Dear John (2010) and The Vow (2012)? Doesn’t it all boil down to a fantasy? That the dancers have to live real lives after the bachelorettes have had their fun is simply hinted at in Magic Mike, but it would rather be light than get its hands too dirty with all that. I think that’s the right choice. It makes the movie much more palatable and, as Mike says about male stripping, “It’s pretty funny.”