I am firmly on the Channing Tatum bandwagon after 21 Jump Street and his latest reinforces my feelings. Here he stars as Mike, a male stripper in Tampa. The story is loosely based on Channing’s own youth spent disrobing for dolla bills (Tatum also has a producer credit). Mike seems to have it made. A big house (usually filled with multiple naked ladies), a nice car, and a job where hundreds of woman lust after his body. He’s living the American dream. It’s only after he befriends Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a college drop out, that Mike begins to notice the cracks in his idyllic lifestyle.
Mike ropes Adam into the stripping business and begins romancing his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). The first part of the film is all about showing you this unknown world and how it works. How things work is something director Steven Soderbergh is fond of exploring and in no time at all we have a grasp on the in-and-outs of the business. The film is certainly more than a showcase for man meat, although there’s plenty of that. But you might be surprised to realize the film is more than a behind the scenes look at stripping too. In fact, the film is skillfully layered and smarter than you think. It has more in common with Boogie Nights and Wall Street than something like Coyote Ugly or Showgirls.
It’s not shy about the parable it’s trying to get across. This movie is about capitalism, freedom, and the price we pay for the good life. There’s a reason the characters talk a lot about equity, Mad Money and a major scene takes place at a bank. There’s even a terrific strip routine in the middle of the film with American flags and plenty of distorted red, white, and blue. I also recall a vivid close-up of crumbled bills being straightened into something usable. It’s there, and it’s wonderfully done, you just need to see past the thongs and Raining Men.
But damn it if the gyrating interludes weren’t entertaining as well. They’re very well shot and choreographed numbers. Like a musical, but with massive amounts of dry humping. Soderbergh shot the film himself (as usual) and he knows how to frame things perfectly. Sometimes it’s for maximum flesh, but mostly to tilt your attention just enough to look for what’s lurking underneath it all.
Tatum is great. He’s charismatic but sensitive. Channing nails the hollowness of the character but also the tragedy of being self-aware. Cody Horn does little but she’s not meant to be a dream girl. Alex Pettyfer is as douchey as ever but again it’s purposeful casting. He is America’s future, selfish id with no consequences. And Matthew McConaughey basically steals the whole movie as the owner and ringleader of the strip joint. McConaughey digs into every syllable and oozes a simultaneously attractive and repulsive magnetism. It’s a showy and Oscar-worthy performance.
Magic Mike is the full package (You’re welcome WB marketing). It has plenty of humor, fun dance numbers, a little romance, and a powerful message for our times. You will be entertained and then feel dirty afterwards, and not because you’re a giant perv.