Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Joe Mangeniello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Kevin Nash
Director of Photography: Peter Andrews, Editor: Mary Ann Bernard, Art Director: Stephen I. Erdberg, Coreographer: Alison Faulk
Magic Mike is the type of film that deserves to be seen with an audience, and especially one made up of women. Remember the cheering during the CGI extravaganza of The Avengers? Wait until you hear the screams of 250 margarita-filled women when they see Channing Tatum’s perfectly chiseled abs and shaped ass. In fact, I couldn’t tell whether it was the audience in the film screaming or just the people around me.
But the film, set in the world of male stripping, is not an indulgent “let’s put hot men on screen.” Behind the camera is none other than Steven Soderbergh, who has delivered some of the most unique features of the last few years, not to mention this year’s phenomenally inimitable Haywire. The film is a collaboration between Soderbegh and Tatum, working on a script by Reid Carolin based on Tatum’s own experiences as a male stripper. But more than that, Magic Mike is the essential sequel to Soderbergh’s “grab-what-you-can” 2008 period piece The Girlfriend Experience. The recession is finally bottomed out, but everyone is still on the hunt for cash. And once again, Soderbergh centers on the body as a commodity fetish. In one moment, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), the dough-eyed child that Magic Mike (Tatum) takes under his wing, sits with the dollar bills he’s earned from his first stage appearance. The bills hide the bulge that is his manhood, or perhaps enhance it.
Set in Tampa Bay, we’re introduced to Mike as a man with many hobbies it seems. He works on roofing, does car details, and builds custom furniture. It’s only later when he flirts with a couple girls at a bar and slips them an advertisement do we realize what makes Mike so special. When we get to the stage, he thrusts his body toward women with open wallets, showing off all of his assets. He moves with sexual ferocity that even had me, a straight man, raising an eyebrow in awe. And the men he moves with on stage—Matt Bomer, Joe Mangeniello, Adam Rodriguez, and Kevin Nash—are just as muscularly impressive through the elaborate and often hilarious dance numbers, choreographed by Alison Faulk. Oh, and Matthew McConaughey, in a role he was born to play, acts as the MC for the extravaganza.
Soderbergh happily indulges throughout Magic Mike in a way he hasn’t done since the Ocean’s films. He let’s the cool yellows of Tampa shine across his visual palette and contrasts it with the purplish blues of the night club (again, Soderbergh works as both his own director of photography and editor under pseudonyms). Both the men and women of Tampa are the type you usually see relegated to liquor commercials and the cars and homes are just as nice. But Magic Mike isn’t interested in being a beautiful movie as much as a film about using beauty as an investment. There are constant conversations about the movement of cash and the ways to invest. Mike wants to start that custom furniture shop, but with bad credit and only wads of singles, he remains far from his dream life. While the recession isn’t appearing in terms of foreclosed homes, Soderbergh fills the mundane textures of his film with moments of characters that want more, that need more, and can only think toward this goal. So while Mike courts Adam’s sister (Cody Horn), she can’t handle someone who is all about personal gain.
Following in the footsteps of former Soderbergh meta-actors Sasha Grey and Gina Carano, Tatum embodies his former self with intense charm and genuine wit. There’s no façade with Tatum in this role. During a late monologue, Tatum oafishly spills over his words, trying to get them out. Another director may ask for a cut in which the dialogue is clearly delivered, but this is the honest cut, the one where the actor and the character mesh together.
Magic Mike only falters in its third act as you can see the words “plot” being forced in and the film trying to reach some sort of conclusion. The film slows down to something more considerate, but it feels too obvious in its narrative machinations to what is often a subtle film (well, as subtle as a film that uses a dance number to “It’s Raining Men”). But the film’s final moments, watching as a new star is born as an old one reconsiders, is a unique note as Soderbergh continues to explore Americana in our tumultuous economic climate. But let’s not forget, Magic Mike features quite a few hot, steamy, muscular men.