Some have greatness thrust upon them; others are distinguished by the greatness of their thrusting. These would be the strippers of the Xquisite Male Dance Revue in Tampa, Fla. where there are more six packs on-stage than on a skid at a beer store.
It’s here, before a panting all-female audience, where much of the action in Magic Mike, a cheeky but finally familiar cautionary tale from the reliably protean Steven Soderbergh, occurs. The title also is the nom de theatre of the Xquisite’s main attraction, played by the bodacious Channing Tatum (who, as we all must know by now, performed prior to stardom in an all-male exotic dance troupe in the late 1990s).
Dry-humping and grinding, though, isn’t Mike’s only gig. By day, the 30-year-old hunk fancies himself “an entrepreneur” (his term if not the bank’s), dabbling in auto detailing, event management, custom furniture design and roofing. While working a construction date Mike encounters Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a feckless, penniless 19-year-old who’s blown a football scholarship and is now sharing an apartment with his decidedly more level-headed sister, Brooke (Cody Horn).
Aided and abetted by Dallas, Xquisite’s exquisitely sleaze-bucket paterfamilias (played to spray-tanned, bikini-waxed perfection by Matthew McConaughey), Mike takes Adam under his wing to demonstrate the tricks of the skin trade. In short order, like Hugh Hefner to Viagra, Adam is embracing the roar of the crowd, the smell of the thong and the delirium of easy money, limitless, no-strings copulation and fab drugs. Mike, however, isn’t so sure. Yeah, he’s had sex with 679 women (including Olivia Munn, a psychology grad student with a thing for threesomes); he’s had more five-dollar bills stuffed in his thong than treats in a piñata; and Dallas is promising him equity (10 per cent, 7.5 per cent, whatever) in a club he plans to open in Miami. But is that all there is? The questioning and the doubts become more urgent as he finds himself drawn to Adam’s clear-eyed, straight-talking sister.
Okay, as plots go, this is nothing to write Chippendales about. Indeed, the story arc and the dilemmas therein are largely just one more modest elaboration of themes already mined in movies like Saturday Night Fever, Showgirls, Lifeguard, American Gigolo and Boogie Nights. A wise wag once described American television as essentially “a civics lesson in a bikini,” and that’s Magic Mike in a nutshell – ass-flashing, high spirits, laughs, buff bods and bawdiness at the start, followed by tsk-tsking and the discreet wagging of fingers.
Two things do redeem the film somewhat. One is the near-uniform excellence of the cast, led by Tatum, who has a compelling, eminently watchable aw-shucks charisma, and newcomer Horn as the cute, concerned sister. The other is the easy, naturalistic flow and ebb of Reid Carolin’s dialogue, which gives none of his characters a vocabulary or insights above his or her station.
Soderbergh’s direction – he’s also the cinematographer – is largely loose-limbed, the film enlivened with bravura moments, including a decidedly spacey, eye-twisting orgy scene near the end. Also intriguing is the sulfurous glow he gives to the film’s exterior scenes, invoking both the allure and the toxicity of Florida’s seductive surfaces.
Moviegoers looking for a raunchy romp in Magic Mike are going to be disappointed. It’s more anatomy of a work-place than hedonistic hoedown, a depiction of a world where the bump, for all the cheap thrills it affords audiences of sorority sisters and office assistants, is as much a grind as any other job.
WHEN BOYS DECIDE TO GROW UP
There’s been no shortage of Hollywood films in which men-children grow dissatisfied, vaguely or acutely, with the highs of hedonism – those breasts! that beach! these drugs! this crowd! – and cast about for a life rather than a lifestyle.
Lifeguard (1976). Sam Elliott is Rick Carlson, a 32-year-old lifeguard who re-examines his life of sun, surf, sand and sex when he’s invited to his 15-year highschool reunion.
Saturday Night Fever (1977). Tony Manera, memorably played by John Travolta, wonders if being king of the disco dance floor really can be the ticket out of Brooklyn and his job in a paint store.
American Gigolo (1980). Julian (Richard Gere) has the bossest collection of Giorgio Armani suits, superb art and a great apartment. He also gets paid (lots) to have sex with wealthy women. Then he goes and spoils it all by fallling in love with Lauren Hutton.
Boogie Nights (1997). Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) has greatness stirring in his pants, greatness unleashed when he becomes Dirk Diggler, Porn Star Extraordinaire, in ‘70s El-Lay. Cocaine and amphetamines lay him low, however.
Crazy Stupid Love (2011) Jacob Palmer (Canada’s Ryan Gosling) dresses like a dream, never lacks for the infallible pick-up line in the chic-est clubs and lives on an inheritance. Then he goes and spoils it all by falling in love with Emma Stone.
Editor's note: An earlier online version of this article misspelled Canadian actor Ryan Gosling's name. This online version has been corrected.