Magic Mike

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 07/03/12 07:32:47

"The Girlfriend Experience: Money Never Sleeps"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It’s tempting to compare ‘Magic Mike’ to ‘Showgirls,’ ‘I Know Who Killed Me’ or other tawdry flicks involving strippers. There are a few key differences, though. With “Magic Mike,” it’s dudes who are doing the disrobing and dancing, and because Steven Soderbergh is directing, the story is more entertaining than it has a right to be.

It also doesn’t hurt that the title character is played by Channing Tatum, the handsome, chiseled actor who actually used to strip for a living. His Mike is a likable fellow who juggles between construction and trying to sell custom made furniture for a living. He’s level headed and seems to take any job that’s handed his with seriousness and skill. Unfortunately, his lowly credit rating is several notches below his character.

As a result, he earns even more cash in his G-string as a male stripper in a review hosted by the smug and smarmy Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Being a good-natured sort, he tries to help out a construction coworker named Adam (Alex Pettyfer). The kid is a natural, and both fellows love the cash and the attention of ladies who see them as something more fun than their own mates (if they have them).

The earlier portions of the film are more intriguing because Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin (who plays one of the strippers) hold nothing back in depicting the lives of men who make themselves into female fantasies.

These fellows have to shave in places I’d rather not recall watching, and some of the preparations they have to take for themselves when they perform look excruciatingly painful. The director also shot and edited the film himself (under pseudonyms), and his “you are there” approach generally works. Soderbergh also has no qualms about hinting they’re might be some homoeroticism going on and in admitting there is some silliness to the whole gig. Those who aren’t into titillation can simply enjoy the crowd grubbing up the cheesy beefcake on stage.

While I’m certainly not the target market for “Magic Mike,” it does make a good showcase for Tatum. If some of his flesh baring seems nightmarish to me, at least he’s an impressive dancer whose grace and agility match his brawn. Occasionally, there’s a leap or a flip that makes up for having to look at his jiggling buttocks.

Where “Magic Mike” loses some of its impact is in depicting the downside of the trade. Because Adam already has issues with authority and reliability, it doesn’t take much effort to guess that he’s going to be a problem for Mike and everyone else around him. Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) is happy that Mike has rescued the troubled lad from her couch but is alarmed by Adam’s poor decisions.

The relationships between Mike, Brooke and a shapely psych major (Olivia Munn) work fitfully. As with “The Girlfriend Experience,” Soderbergh is examining the commoditization of both love and sex. In both films, he dwells on long conversations where the characters talk about the wonders of moving cash.

At times there are some worthwhile questions raised (can one really fall in love with someone if everything else is done for cash?). At other times, it sounds as exciting as hearing a broker talk about managing someone else’s money.

At least Tatum can spout dialogue without sounding like an automaton. He’s turned into a capable thespian in movies like “21 Jump Street” and Soderbergh’s “Haywire.” Sasha Grey, the moonlighting porn star in the “The Girlfriend Experience,” proved that an attractive person could be less interesting on screen than a sheet of plastic.

That said, in many ways, “Magic Mike” is somewhat subversive for a mainstream movie. It does make viewers wonder if hitting the big time is worth the trouble, even for a profession as giggle inducing as striptease. Maybe switching genders (and performers) was all he had to do to make the earlier film work.

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