Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Riley Keough, Joe Maganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodrieguez, and Gabriel Iglesias
When you fail to make a film about male strippers interesting, you’ve pretty much failed at life, or – as in director Steven Soderbergh’s case – only at least until the next project. What most of us have been calling a male SHOWGIRLS or a two hour Chris Farley-Patrick Swayze “Chippendales” skit, Channing Tatum’s love letter to his past stripperdom, MAGIC MIKE, pales in comparison to these. MEH-GIC MIKE is more like it.
Soderbergh’s odyssey begins with much promise: Emcee extraordinaire Dallas (McConaughey) welcomes us to Club Xquisite – his all male revue – and doles out the (very prophetic) rules. You can look “but you can not touch.” We then wake up with Mike (Tatum), the club’s headliner, who’s just had a threesome with psych major/fuck buddy Joanna (played by Olivia Munn, whose desperation to play edgy and doff her top for art is at an all time high). He’s off to his construction day job but longs to build shitty furnishings out of scrap car and airplane parts. While on the job he meets young Adam (Alex Pettyfer). You see, Adam doesn’t adhere to rules (he doesn’t wear ties, y’all!) and usually gets fired before collecting a paycheck. Taking pity on his new bestie, whom he nicknames “The Kid,” Mike introduces him to his magical world – Tampa’s hottest stripping extravaganza (sadly, most of the men’s dance routines are snipped into montages). As Mike leads “The Kid” into a world filled with sex, drugs, and non-stop parties, he finds himself growing increasingly tired and yearns for change. However, it’s not until Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) pushes Mike to re-examine his lifestyle that he genuinely wants out. My only question is, why did it take him this long to figure that out?
Don’t get me wrong. MAGIC MIKE has a lot going for it. McConaughey says his iconic “all right, all right, all right” phrase and half-nakedly plays the bongos (an allusion to this perhaps?). There’s a baby piglet, hot guys with rock hard abs and bare asses, a stellar soundtrack, shots of peen (for the ladies and gay men) and Munn’s boobies (for the men and lesbians). There’s also a beautifully shot and edited sequence where the pair proceed to get “fucked up,” with each taking away a different feeling from that night: For one, it’s a wake up call; for the other, it’s a red carpet arrival. However, the script can never quite assemble these moments into a cohesive working unit (hehehe… I said unit). Probably done deliberately, there’s a jarring contrast between their sepia toned real life and the slick, polished illusion of what is on stage. Mike’s journey is fairly mundane – he’s waking up to the fact his life isn’t so great at the same time his protégé is finding it hard to resist – as is the lackluster romance between him and boring Brooke. They have zero chemistry together. Plus she’s pretty judgey (and shaming) when it comes to his career choice.
Screenwriter Reid Carolin does a good job introducing the audience to a world most of us will never know, let alone fully understand. From their dance numbers to the stage personas and costumes, their insular world within the walls of Xquisite is well developed – that is until he and Soderbergh proceed to do nothing with this build up. An even bigger slap in the face is the fact we are given characters the script shies away from utilizing. The focus is on two cardboad cutouts whereas it could benefit more from its ensemble.
Is visiting a strip club the same for women as it is for men? Nope. Do we think the dancers are the boyfriends and husbands we never had? Not so much. It’s about getting a need met instantly and having fun doing so – which are two huge things Soderbergh fails to deliver with this piece. We never quite get what’s so magic about Mike. Sure, he can work “the ladies” and he’s a decent, nice guy, but what’s so great about him? Will this become the iconic guilty pleasure that SHOWGIRLS turned into? Not at all. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it’s fodder that’s best left forgotten.