In a seemingly further attempt at throwing random ideas at a movie screen until something sticks, Steven Soderbergh follows the by the numbers experiment in kinetic setups, Haywire, with a flashily choreographed but ultimately, emotionally flat look at the world of male strippers.
Still, for the first half of Magic Mike you’d be forgiven for thinking that emotions aren’t really the prime focus for Mike and his crew, as cash is stuffed in waistbands, women scream and throw themselves at them with abandon, and the nightlife is filled with neon drinking, clubbing and so many more women that the first time we meet the eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) he’s waking in the company of a pair of them, and being completely clueless as to whom one of them even is. Though to be fair, the one he’s at least familiar with (Olivia Munn) has no idea who the other one is either.
Ironically it’s this hedonistic hour that actually draws you in, the bump and grind and hustle of Tatum as he goes from stage, to day job on a building site, to trying to get his bespoke furniture business off the ground. Yes, even male strippers have other dreams, even if trying to raise a bank loan with a briefcase full of crumpled one, fives and tens turns out to be harder than he thought.
His compadres, an amusing but cardboard thin collection of walking types, including Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello of True Blood fame), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and, er, Ken (Matt Bomer) are seemingly unconcerned with life’s rich pageant outside of Club Xquisite, and are faithfully on board with club owner and ex-stripper Dallas (a wonderfully unselfconscious Matthew McConaughey) and his plans to open an even more outré strip joint in the glitz/glam capital of the world, Miami.
The entire crew attack the raison detre of the movie, the dancing and stripping, with admirable gusto, and nicely underplay the banal and amusing backstage prep. It’s hard to tell which side of the stage, front or back, drew Soderbergh to Tatum’s tale based on his early Hollywood pre-acting stripping experience, but one thing is for sure, he certainly seems to have had fun concocting and shooting the OTT routines with choreographer Alison Faulk. Taken out of the context of an actual club the dance moves are gloriously ridiculous, less sex show, more carnival of kitsch. Even if some of that carnival atmosphere includes getting the odd crotch and ass rubbed in your face.
Into this atmosphere of estrogen and peacock machismo comes Alex Pettyfer as ‘The Kid’. First taken under of wing of Mike as a building site neophyte, his amateurish youthfulness is soon used to good effect, drawing in a group of gals for that night’s dance revue, before making his own un-scheduled, clumsy but well received stage appearance. And before you can whip off a pair of easy-release stripping trousers The Kid is sold. Banging in nails was never going to compete with nightly adoration and getting banknotes shoved down your pants.
But The Kid has his own baggage of sorts, in the shape of more serious-minded sister Brooke (Cody Horn) who is never less than impressed with his chosen career change, but possibly impressed with Mike’s multi-hyphenate charms.
Unfortunately for us here’s where the high octane and genuinely entertaining fun and frivolity of Magic Mike’s opening salvos (just wait for McConaughey’s dance class) come unstuck, as a certain lack of chemistry between the destined for on-screen romance pairing of Tatum and Horn compounds what is soon exposed to be a clunkily written script by Reid Carolin. As Pettyfer gets in over his head and remains clueless and steadfastly dense in the life-learning stakes the film-makers try to add pathos to the partying, but the characters can’t carry it. There’s a moment where we should be exposed to the charm of Mike as he fails to put together a sensible sentence whilst trying to explain himself to Brooke but it comes across more like a man who’s just been hit in the head and is suffering from temporary dementia.
It’s a shame, because when Tatum and the film distance themselves from the bolted on attempts at character depth, that natural charm hardly needs to try. Perhaps Soderbergh and his star were genuinely trying to make a drama for guys about guys just trying to get by, dressed up in the gloss of a fun night for gals, but truth be told we can have just as much fun laughing at, and with, our better chiselled brethren. They may be better packaged, but they’re not that much different from the rest of us. Well, that’s what we tell ourselves anyway.
Magic Mike is in cinemas now.