Well, it’s about time the woo-girls get their own movie. The only male equivalent to Magic Mike that comes to mind may be Showgirls, but women being used as eye candy in movies is basically everywhere. And then, of course, there’s porn. So yeah, about time.
And this isn’t some low-budget woosploitation flick; Steven Soderbergh is an experienced and capable craftsman, so he’s not going to produce some cheap piece of crap. But for all its slick appearances and glitzy flash, there’s not really anything there under the surface. And while this could be spun as some sort of meta-commentary on its subject, that core attitude is exactly what ultimately weakens and trivializes the script.
Magic Mike is the stage name of Mike Lane (Channing Tatum), a — male — stripper with a heart of gold. Mike really loves making things, like his custom furniture assembled from detritus that washes up on Tampa’s beaches after hurricanes; dancing is just something he does to make the money he needs to launch his custom furniture business, along with mobile car detailing, roofing, and who knows what else.
It’s at his roofing job that Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a slacker currently riding the couch of his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). Wandering Tampa’s nightlife, Adam runs into Mike, who brings him to the club. He meets the rest of the revue — Ken (Matt Bomer), “Tarzan” (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodríguez) and “Big Dick” Richie (Joe Manganiello) — and the impressario, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), lets him dance. Or “stumble around dazedly taking off his clothes”, since at first he’s just awful. But Dallas will teach him, as he taught Mike six years ago.
The rest of the movie follows Adam’s descent into the darker side of this business, as well as other less savory enterprises. Meanwhile, Mike tries to pull himself up out of it.
Which brings up the big problem: the incredibly simplistic moralizing tone. Mike puts on a cheery, fun-loving face, but everything about the life is rotten, rotten, rotten, to hear Reid Carolin’s script tell it. They do drugs; some sell drugs; they have sex with anonymous partners; we should be shocked — shocked — at their behavior. Sandy-blonde Brooke stands as an escape from this den if iniquity, while the raven-haired Joanna (Olivia Munn) wants to keep Mike in his place.
Which is not to say that there are not seedy male strip clubs; of course there are. But for one thing, it’s far from clear that it’s as universally bleak as we’re being told. For another, doesn’t the fact that we as a society view sex work — even at the mildest end that this sort of dancing occupies — with such disdain have a lot to do with how bleak it becomes?
Given that the marketing trumpets the story as based, in part, on Tatum’s experiences as a dancer himself before his rise to stardom, you might go in expecting to find some sort of insight into the reality behind the stage. Instead, all we get is melodrama and histrionic pearl-clutching wrapped around some ridiculously good-looking mostly-naked bodies. Soderbergh’s direction may be spot-on, but he needs a far better script and a far more talented core cast to make this anything but cheap eye-candy.
Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what they said about Paul Verhoeven and Showgirls.
Worth It: maybe as a girls’ night out, but why not just go to a live show then?
Bechdel Test: fail.