I just watched a Channing Tatum stripper movie. By myself. In a theater. And I sort of kind of I've got to admit liked it. Let me rephrase. I just watched a new Steven Soderbergh drama. And it was good.
Magic Mike is the unlikely latest movie from the unpredictable Soderbergh, whose last several movies have been about assassins, a worldwide contagion, a goofy informant, a high-end escort and Che Guevara. Soderbergh, whose capabilities overrule Tatum's cardboard nature, clearly sees something in the actor that the rest of us don't see; Tatum does not only take center stage as the title character here, but he also had a role in Soderbergh's Haywire, which was released in January.
As evidenced by the crowd's reaction - and the buzz I'm hearing from a certain demographic with boobs and no penises - it really doesn't matter how good or how bad of an actor Channing Tatum is. Women have heard the word: Tatum plays a stripper, in a movie roughly based on his own life.
Women, you can stop reading right there. Men, you're not reading this review anyway, but I'll proceed anyway.
Magic Mike is an entertaining flick that revels in the cheesiness of what is, from what I've heard, a pretty cheesy thing: male strip clubs. The movie features several creative dance sequences that have Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey and other men stripping down to thongs in zany and creative ways. As a straight guy, I still found the scenes fun to watch. It probably helped that there is, surprisingly, no male frontal nudity in Magic Mike. It also helps that Olivia Munn gets naked.
Aside from the strip club sequences, Soderbergh litters his movie with a pretty predictable story about the best stripper in the world, or Tampa, contemplating his life and trying to get out of the world of stripping; a down-on-his-luck teenager who discovers how much fun it is to be a male stripper; and his reluctant and incredibly gorgeous sister who may or may not like the title character. It's all stuff we've seen before.
And yet, the relationship between Mike and Brooke (Cody Horn) is oddly confusing. Though their relationship is marketed in the trailers as being a key focus for the film, Tatum and Horn are given very little time on screen together. They have some chemistry, but not much. To make matters worse (SPOILER ALERT), it's not very believable that she would fall for the guy who singlehandedly ruins her brother's life.
The third act suffers from several other plot holes, or at least a lack of resolution. Mike wants to design custom furniture, but the movie never shows him obtaining his goal - or even suggesting he has a legitimate shot at doing so. Pettyfer's character falls onto hard times, but then Mike abandons him after promising his sister that he'd always look after him. And then the movie ends with an oddly out-of-character line from Horn that suggests the serious last 45 minutes of the movie should be ignored in favor of the raw silliness of the subject matter.
Despite its many flaws, however, Magic Mike is a fun ride. It isn't as good as Soderbergh thinks it is, but it isn't a shallow Channing Tatum vehicle, either. It exists somewhere in between, a movie that could have been better had it fully embraced the absurdity of strip club antics or gone a grittier Boogie Nights kind of direction. As is, though, Soderbergh and Tatum deliver a tale that convinced me to root for Mike. That alone far exceeds expectations.
So yes, I watched a Channing Tatum stripper movie. And I don't regret it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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