I walked out of director Steven Soderbergh’s ode to the male stripper, Magic Mike, saying “It’s exactly like a strip show. After the glitter and nudity is covered up you’re left with a group of guys that you have to get to know who are as boring as regular people.” If Soderbergh was attempting to debunk the myth that strippers of any gender live a glamorous life he succeeded. Sadly, that leaves the audience (who will be predominantly female) with 60 minutes of man-candy and 50 minutes of boring crap found in any comedy.
Mike (Channing Tatum) is one of the top male dancers at a nightclub called Xquisite. He takes a young performer (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing with the hopes that Mike can go to greener pastures when the club moves to Miami. As Mike’s protégée Adam starts to live the glamorous life, Mike starts to fall for Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn).
Soderbergh gets credit for releasing a film that allows women to gaze on men. For decades the idea of the “male gaze” has been debated in film and Magic Mike makes no apologies for allowing its male cast to get undressed for long periods of time. Based on the line out the door of my local theater, the movie’s marketing was genius! The dance sequences are the typical pole humping seen in female strip films but instead are actual, choreographed routines that allow star Channing Tatum to remind people he can dance. The amount of bare flesh is astounding during the first half of the movie and will easily make your audience go wild. Had the movie kept on embracing the story of male strippers and their crazy life, the film would have soared and probably become a legend in the genre.
There’s no excuse for this movie’s failure. Honestly, I expected good-looking men discussing the stripper lifestyle. I theorized that possibly Soderbergh would explore the different perceptions of male strippers vs. female strippers. Nope, instead Soderbergh treads territory so well worn it’s become a rut in genre conventions. Instead of looking at stripping as a profession or a lifestyle the film explores the relationship between Mike and Brooke. Brooke of course doesn’t understand Mike’s lifestyle! Mike himself isn’t taken seriously by banks and other professionals in one scene that is literally a flash in the film’s bloated runtime. It’s as if screenwriter Reid Carolin (this is his first major studio script job) had a lot of great stripping scenes written out and realized he had to fill out the rest of the runtime so he added in a little bit of everything. Some strippers have drug problems right? Make Adam lose himself in drugs for a few scenes. The entire second half of the film revolves around the relationship between Brooke and Mike to the point I asked if Mike had quit his job and no one knew. There’s a complete inability to keep the story interesting, fun, or even watchable once the group leaves the club. Aside from Mike, Adam, and the club’s owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey doing some amazing scenery chewing) the remaining cast members literally have no point in the story.
The acting itself is a hodgepodge of indifference. Tatum is good at comedy and dance but he continues to show what a dead fish he is when trying to “Act.” He has no chemistry with leading lady Cody Horn. Horn herself is a blonde Kristen Stewart with no personality. She’s poorly written as the uptight sister who doesn’t get stripping but Horn doesn’t rise above the material, simply looking dour. Pettyfer continues to show himself off as a pretty face surrounded by similar wasted faces like Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello.
Soderbergh is stretching himself thin to be sure and the weak effort seen in Magic Mike is proof of that. Aside from the harsh yellow tones we’ve come to expect from the director, there’s nothing that even defines this as a Soderbergh film. Instead it’s a flashy gimmick movie that devolves into plodding romantic drama. Hopefully, the Magic Mike DVD will have a “Strip Scene” feature that just allows you to watch the stripping and remove the story…the film works better.