Steven Soderbergh throws another cinematic curveball with a film set in the world of male strippers.
A director whose films range from little-seen art house movies to such mainstream hits as the George Clooney- and Brad Pitt-starring Ocean’s trilogy, Soderbergh, who grew up in Baton Rouge, has another hit with Magic Mike. Attracting an overwhelmingly female audience, the film earned $39 million in its opening weekend.
As surprising as its setting may be, Magic Mike is among the Oscar-winning director’s most conventional projects. A belated coming of age story, it’s about a 30-year-old man who realizes the party lifestyle he’s been living for years can’t last forever. He does not want to wake up one afternoon and find he’s a 40-year-old stripper.
Actor, one-time male stripper and favorite of female moviegoers Channing Tatum plays Mike, a roofer by day, stripper by night. Mike also has aspirations of being a professional furniture designer, but that dream isn’t going so well.
Mike strips at Tampa’s Club Xquisite, a profitable venture owned and operated by the flamboyant Dallas. Matthew McConaughey has the ultimate Matthew McConaughey role as the venue’s proprietor and host. Although he’s put his own stripping on the back burner, the uninhibited Dallas delights in warming his lady guests up for their night’s entertainment.
Magic Mike doesn’t engage in much fancy, arty stuff. Soderbergh, working from a script by Tatum’s production partner, Reid Carolin, straightforwardly puts the story on film, plus lots of strip club sequences and, exploiting the film’s Gulf Coast locale, a sandbar scene that further displays the film’s male as well as female principals’ young, firm bodies.
Tatum can look sleepy and wooden on film. He appeared so in The Vow, a romantic drama released earlier this year. But under Soderbergh’s supervision the actor gives as rich a performance as he’s ever given. It helps that he’s got a deep character to play. Mike is a stripper at the crossroads.
The 19-year-old college dropout Mike takes under his wing is the impetus for a change of course. Mike inducts the adrift Adam, played by British actor Alex Pettyfer, into the male stripping world, a place of easy money, easier women. Quickly overcoming his shyness, Adam, dubbed The Kid by Dallas, embraces what appears be a really good time.
Completing the principal cast, Cody Horn wins Mike and the audience as Brooke. Attractive if not stereotypically pretty, Horn’s focus and intelligence as Adam’s protective older sister connects strongly with the cast members she shares the screen with and the audience, too. A prize worth fighting for, Brooke brings out the best in Mike, the character, and Tatum, the actor.
For all the titillation Tatum and the stripping scenes may have for the film’s core audience, Magic Mike also has a story worth telling: human beings changing, growing, finding their way. Along with lighthearted, comedic moments and the stripping that dominates early scenes, it’s also a drama that dares to take dark turns. This makes Magic Mike, a fresh take on the old redemption theme, a hit that even Soderbergh, the artist, can be proud of.