Careful ladies. Girls’ night out just turned into evening at the art house.
Along with the equally stylish “Haywire” earlier this year, Steven Soderbergh has again taken a no-nonsense genre picture that in another director’s hands would just be sugary fun, if not forgettable, and transformed it into something with intellect and class.
Now if you ask me, if you wanted to make a movie about male strippers, you couldn’t have a better director behind the helm than Soderbergh. The guy is the master of the mid-range shot and can make even the simplest exchange look like a sexy music video set piece. Soderbergh isn’t coy enough to cast Sexiest Man Alive Channing Tatum and former Sexiest Man Alive Matthew McConaughey and not include some juicy fun erotic dances. But even an average watcher only in this for the physical pleasures will see the film’s canted lens and intense low angle shots and sense there’s something disturbing going on here, not entirely an empty montage of sexy fun.
Tatum plays Mike, an independent construction contractor, entrepreneur and male stripper, in case you thought I was kidding about his business ventures. He builds custom furniture when he’s not dry humping a cougar’s face for money, so all around he has this keen understanding of women and people in general. He meets the 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) on the job and instantly ropes him into this noisy, colorful underworld of tough, yet spotless characters and seductive environments of booze, drugs and girls.
Mike develops a crush on Adam’s older sister Brooke (Cody Horn) and reveals he’s more than just a stripper with a heart of gold. Tatum’s performance is confident, yet subtle enough that even amidst Soderbergh’s elaborate cinematography, he still looks somewhat like a guy in distress.
“Magic Mike” is an art house bromance in a lot of ways. It’s an identity crisis movie between two male strippers, one entering into the world at his lowest point and the other trying to leave it. Both Mike and Adam become friends and rivals, and their chemistry is thankfully more than skin (or leather chaps) deep.
But it does have its visceral pleasures. McConaughey is on fire as the flamboyant gangster type in charge of the stripper joint. He seems to know how to use a prop or wear a skimpy workout outfit better than anyone else. He commands an extended take in which he instructs Pettyfer to take off his clothes like a man and make love to a wall.
There are only so many times a stripper routine can be sexy before it looks sad. “Magic Mike” recognizes that and makes for a colorful film that acts accordingly and will surprise in ways you didn’t expect.