Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is both the dealer and the narc. Both the buzz and the buzzkill. Both the orgy and the post-orgy prayer circle.
The audience I saw it with—almost exclusively female—was whooping and hollering and ready for a party.
And for its first hour or so, Magic Mike provided it. At the Tampa all-male strip club where our titular (or should I say . . . naaa, it’s too easy) hero (Channing Tatum) works, they got to see all the pelvic thrusting and body-rolling their hearts could desire. The guys—a bevy of Hollywood hunks, including Alex Pettyfer (who looks like a stretched out Jude Law) as Mike’s protégée, Adam, a.k.a. “The Kid”; True Blood’s pectacular Joe Manganiello; and White Collar’s chiseled Matt Bomer (I said Bomer, people, Bomer)—run through a variety of choreographed moves, almost all of which end with them dry humping some half terrified/half euphoric woman from the crowd.
The dancing is fun and cheesy and hot—and in particular, Tatum reminds us that he’s a real dancer, not just an actor with some moves.
Matthew McConaughey is front and center as the club’s owner and emcee —and he’s giving us the Full McConaughey, if you will: shirtless, cowboy-hatted, and drawling, “Alright, alright, alright” like he’s some kind of talking Matthew McConaughey doll. I’m not a McConaughey fan, but this performance was so amusingly broad it struck me as self-parody (dear God, I hope it was).
While large chunks of the film are funny and lively and Tatum couldn’t be more charming, even these early scenes give off a sense that bad times are just around the corner.
Backstage at the strip club, it feels kind of seedy and desperate—more reminiscent of Daron Aronofsky’s The Wrestler than, say, Showgirls. And when “The Kid” starts gets mixed up with an ecstasy dealer, we know it isn’t going to end well.
A lot of the film’s rawness, candid sexuality, and naturalistic dialogue reminded me of Robert Altman’s early work (high praise) but the film also has an early Tom Cruise vibe (less high praise). As Cruise did in such films as Top Gun, Cocktail, and Days of Thunder, Channing plays a cocky and somewhat shallow young man who needs to man up and take stock of his life. As usual, he’s inspired by a good woman, in this case "The Kid"’s sister (a bland Cody Horn) whom he’s smitten with, and who thinks he’s a bit of a loser.
At some point, Mike looks around and sees that he’s 30 years old and all the drugs, sex, and late-night parties are leading nowhere. After all the fun, the film ends on a quiet and somewhat contemplative note. In my theater, it was as if the air had left the room. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course—the great Saturday Night Fever had a similar trajectory. It’s just that it felt like a bit of bait and switch. The trailers promise a rollicking good time that the film only partly delivers. Also, I sensed that Soderbergh’s heart was a lot more in the “fun” part of the film than the sobering “life lesson” part.
In that sense, Magic Mike is both the lap dance at the club and, well . . . the long drive home.