Once you get past the thongs, the uniforms, and the sleek choreographed stripping dance routines–admittedly, the main attraction of Magic Mike for most audiences–it’s just another day at the office for Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11, Erin Brockovich). Lensed with a typical bleach blond colour palate, Soderbergh’s dramatisation of the life of star Channing Tatum (Step Up) is actually a very solidly told, frequently hilarious, cheekily sly drama about a man trying to make the most for himself in trying times. That there are a whole bunch of sexy men gyrating for the thrill of us all is just one of the ways that Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin smartly rewrites the script of this shoulda-been-clichéd seen-it-all-before story. Why wasn’t this in 3D?
Tatum stars as “Magic Mike”, a part-time labourer and furniture designer who earns a crust stripping at a local Tampa joint alongside “Big Dick Ritchie” (Joe Manganiello, True Blood), Ken (Matt Bomer, White Collar), Tito (Adam Rodriguez, CSI: Miami), and Tarzan (WWF star Kevin Nash). Taking “The Kid” (Alex Pettyfer, I Am Number Four) under his wing, Magic Mike follows their lives in typical Soderbergh fashion as their stars appear to be heading higher and higher the more dollar bills they can score from waiting audiences. Overseen by emcee Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, Lincoln Lawyer), this joint is fond of themed dances (a patriotic fourth of July bit is particularly fun, as are any involving Bomer living Ken doll) and Soderbergh never shies from portraying it exactly as it should be. A more sheepish director would worry about shredding their masculine image, but he and his cast take the entire enterprise in good humour and make Magic Mike into a rewarding experience outside of the admittedly eye-popping dance routines.
Far from the Showgirls mould of stripper cinema, Magic Mike actually most resembles Dancing at the Blue Iguana. That little known independent feature featured its stars (Daryl Hannah, Sandra Oh, Jennifer Tilly amongst them) exposing a more mundane, but still invigorating and touching side to the industry. The highs and the lows and the in betweens of being a stripper, featuring a fierce performance from Oh. Magic Mike plays more footloose and fancy free, never really digging deep into any of the characters outside of Mike, but its grinning, cocky attitude is always entertaining to watch.
The best moments of Magic Mike are the small ones. Soderbergh’s films always reward the keen of eye. Seeing Pettyfer perform a group dance number somewhat out of sync with the rest, or trying to decipher the background conversations of the characters are just some of the side-treats here. Soderbergh’s visuals are big and bright as always and the soundtrack pulses with a nightclub verve. The actors are uniformly fabulous and committed with McConoughey’s southern charm finally finding a character that fits like a glove. The only real magic in Magic Mike is that Soderbergh was able to make a truly great film from what may have been superfluous pap.
Magic Mike is released in Australia on July 26th
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello, Olivia Munn, and Kevin Nash