With The Vow and the hilarious 21 Jump Street under his belt, the Channing Tatum 2012 train continues with Magic Mike, a film based on the actor's own experience as a male stripper. With the help of director Steven Soderbergh, the film bends over backward (in a a number of revealing outfits) to prove (successfuly) that his last few movies weren't a fluke -- C-Tates has some true star charisma. Sadly, the film isn't a great vehicle for much else, coasting along for an hour on good vibes before the need to tell some sort of story forces the film into a home stretch consisting of 40 long minutes of well-worn territory and an unremarkable finish.
Adam (Alex Pettyfer) is a bit of a burn-out. Living on his sister's couch, he drags himself to craigslist gigs he's unprepared and unqualified for, such as a roofing assignment where he meets Mike (Tatum). When the foreman catches him stealing cans of Pepsi, he quits, but he runs into Mike again in downtown Tampa. Mike takes pity on him, and before Adam really knows what's happening, he's inside a club trying to smooth-talk a 21-year-old birthday girl and her best friend to catch a show at the male strip joint where Mike makes most of his money.
I was told on Twitter that male strip clubs are no more or less sleazy than female strip clubs, but Soderbergh brings out the fun in the experience, with an idealized vibe of naughty but ultimately playful enthusiasm. Each routine is a sharply cut, cleverly designed and choreographed slice of dance spectacle. Although I didn't catch any of the Step Up films, I'd bet the experience of watching those performers twist and weave isn't all that different from Magic Mike, even if these numbers are more about abs than ability. Then again, Tatum is a physical force of nature in these scenes, spinning, jumping, and (for lack of a better word) scooting across the stage like a professional. Anyone not sure why Magic Mike was worth making will find their answer in his on-stage magnetism.
Unfortunately, dance scenes alone can't sustain a movie, and Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin fall back on a romance (yawn), and a cautionary "rise-and-fall" story (ugh). While training Adam for the stage, Mike hits it off with Adam's sister Brooke (a stone-faced but reasonably charming Cody Horn). Brooke already has a boyfriend, and is resistant to Mike's usual tricks, but he's drawn towards something that feels more meaningful than his casual-hookup relationship with Joanna (Olivia Munn). Meanwhile, club owner Dallas (a goofy, game Matthew McConaughey) is almost ready to move everyone to Miami Beach for even more business, but Alex becomes involved with drug dealing, putting Mike's standing with Dallas in danger. Soderbergh and his cast go through the motions, but there's not much there, nor is there much dramatic pull to Mike's desire to do more with his life. On one hand, it might be that Tatum, as good as he is, just doesn't have the range to give weight to a scene where Mike tries to secure a bank loan, or his stumbling attempt to explain his actions to Brooke (an intriguing idea by Soderbergh that doesn't quite work), but it's more likely that, for a movie as feisty as Magic Mike, all of the seriousness is a buzzkill. Who wants to hear about tough times when they could be having some good, clean fun?
For the most part, I enjoyed Magic Mike, and I'm not even the target audience, which is going to eat this film up like the cheesecake that it is. Tatum and Soderbergh may have been afraid that, without a deeper connection to the characters or more of a story to tell, the film would be slight or simple, yet their attempt to broaden the film's horizons is exactly what makes it those things, transforming it from a silly summer popcorn movie (for a certain crowd, anyway) into a limp attempt at a serious drama.
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