2 out of 4 stars
Having worked within practically every genre over the last three decades, Steven Soderberg has achieved more than most directors could ever dream of and, for the most, has nothing left to prove. He's at liberty to pick any project he wants and doesn't have to answer to anyone. Why he would make such an unchallenging movie such as "Magic Mike" -- his weakest commercial effort to date -- at this point in his career is baffling.
Mixing the sobering, often despondent air of "Boogie Nights," "Saturday Night Fever" and "Flashdance" with the gaudy cheesiness of "Moulin Rouge," "Showgirls," "Burlesque" and a Village People music video, "Magic Mike" is one part flesh fantasy and four parts seedy, B-grade drama. With a single exception, every character in the film is patently unlikeable and the movie will be viewed as a blatant bait-and-switch by its razor-thin target demographic (women attending in groups and gay men).
Before the lights even went down at the preview screening, the mostly over-30 female audience was hooting and cheering as if they were at an actual strip club.
Led by the title character (Channing Tatum), five ultra-ripped, very limber man-boys deliver a Chippendale-grade number that brought down the house. Then the club's bright lights gave way to the stark sunlight of the next morning and reality took over. The audience -- still reeling -- was patient. They knew if they waited they would be rewarded with more beefcake and they were; about 20 minutes worth accompanied by 100 more minutes of mostly badly acted gloom and despair.
It probably won't come as much of a shock after seeing the movie that Tatum (also a co-producer) once worked as a male stripper. What will surprise most is Tatum's affable, seemingly effortless performance both on and off the dance floor. After four years and two dozen largely sub-par films, Tatum is finally looking comfortable in front of the camera. It's odd and more than a tad ironic that this came in a movie that most exploits his lantern jaw and chiseled physique.
Realizing that all strippers have a limited shelf life, Mike is squirreling away all of his tips in the hopes of starting his own custom furniture design company. He gets a cold slap of reality when applying for a loan and being told that even with a hefty five-figure down payment and a winning smile, no bank is going to help anyone with zero credit history and a shady source of income. This quasi-interesting sub-plot is introduced and never revisited.
Mike got his start as a dancer a few years earlier after being pegged on the street by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), an even older stripper that started his own club and wishes to relocate from Tampa to Miami and eventually retire. To his immense credit, McConaughey is in better shape than most men half his age, but the Dallas character is a total sleaze ball that, sadly, is perfectly suited for McConaughey's own obnoxious, grating, self-involved persona.
The teacher-mentor thing continues with Mike taking Adam (Alex Pettyfer), aka the Kid, under his wing. A rebel without a cause or a clue, Alex torpedoed a college football scholarship and now lives with his much more together sister Paige (Cody Horn). Alex starts out slow, dim, impressionable, is prone to screwing up, has zero personality and ends the exact same way.
Also lacking in the personality department, Paige sternly disapproves of Alex's Full Monty career choice, but gives him some latitude once Mike -- charming as all get-out -- assures her that he'll look after him. Serving more or less as Mike's love interest, the Paige character is even duller and more one-dimensional than Alex. To call her performance flat and wooden would be an understatement.
"Magic Mike" is likely to tank at the box-office but will undoubtedly (like most guilty pleasure flicks of this ilk) enjoy a fruitful afterlife on home video. If you can possibly stand the wait (probably two months max), save a little coin and go that route. (Warner Bros.)