The winning combination of Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum continues in this layered and impeccably acted piece. The flawless choreography on the stripping sequences doesn’t hurt either.
Everybody has to start somewhere, and actor/producer Channing Tatum certainly did more that wait tables on his road to stardom. It’s now widely known that Tatum worked several odd jobs after dropping out of college, including an eight-month stint as a stripper under the name “Chan Crawford”. Encouraged by director Steven Soderbergh, who he had previously worked with on Haywire (2011), Tatum has helped writer Reid Carolin craft his own origin story into a semi-autobiographical tale that is refreshing honest and (mostly) free of sensationalism.
Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) lives in Tampa, working a series of menial tasks to earn enough money to realise his dream of a custom furniture company. He meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) on one such job, and recognising something special, introduces ‘The Kid’ to his nightlife and a job as a stripper for manager Dallas (Matthew Mcconaughey). In turn, Mike meets Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn), and begins to realise that his life may not be everything he always dreamed of.
Two decades and over twenty films after sex, lies and videotape (1989), Soderbergh shifts his gaze on male sexuality and identity from middle-class Louisiana to the nearby Florida. On the surface, Soderbergh’s latest outing could be cynically viewed as an attempt to exploit the reverse objectification of well-oiled men. Yet Magic Mike is a ‘stripper’ film about as much as Boogie Nights (1998) is a ‘porn’ film. Set against an exotic and still somewhat taboo world, despite its mass consumption by men and women alike, Carolin’s screenplay uses the background to explore the far more interesting characters that populate that world. Like Paul Thomas Anderson’s ensemble, this dysfunctional family sails together on the same sinking ship, forever fated to travel on their singular path until somebody hops off.
The suitably endearing Pettyfer is the analogue for Tatum’s own experiences, and is perhaps a parallel version of him, still caught in a starry-eyed spectacle of the vampiric lifestyle. Tatum himself continues to impress in one of his most down-to-earth and sincere performances to date, albeit one that involves some spectacularly staged semi-nude dance sequences. His relationship with Horn’s character, one in which neither will admit a mutual attraction, is tentative but never juvenile. Horn and Internet celebrity Olivia Munn, who plays Brooke’s opposite number in the more flirtatious Joanna, offer Mike flip sides of a coin, making for a far more intriguing love triangle than most romances. Yet it is McConaughey at his extroverted best that steals the show, reveling every moment on stage and in front of the camera, not even attempting to restrain his manic persona.
Following the multi-narrative, hyperlinked style that Soderbergh used to mixed results in Contagion and Haywire, it is pleasing to see the filmmaker return to a more straightforward mix of drama and spectacle, playing to his strengths as a keen observer of intimate human interaction. That the impressively staged dance numbers and casual sexual encounters are as beautifully orchestrated and shot as the Tampa locations is the cherry on top.
Magic Mike is released in Australia on 26 July 2012 from Roadshow Films.