From watching the trailer for Magic Mike, you’d be forgiven for assuming it to be nothing more than an exploration of every indulgence available to get women into the theater. Starring chinny beefcake Channing Tatum as a male stripper in a love story (a love story featured more prominently in the trailer than in the film itself), all you needed was a couple of Vampires and a role for Katherine Heigl for Magic Mike to look like the very worst film.
Thankfully, Magic Mike is not the film the trailer is trying to convince you it might be. Instead, it’s the twenty-fourth film from Steven Soderbergh, whose twenty-three year career has dabbled into just about every different tone and genre. He’s made ensemble comedies with more A-listers than any one film has any business keeping all to itself, and darkly-dull capers starring nothing but first-time actors.
In the midst of that variety, Magic Mike doesn’t feel as out of place is it might have for most other independently-minded filmmakers. And, luckily, Magic Mike feels nothing like the generic Chick Flick its trailer or script could have led to.
For one thing, Tatum might be an extraordinarily lucky assemblage of large muscles, but he’s not the dimwit actor his physique suggests. He convincingly wallows in disappointment in one scene as Mike, and in the next scene wobbles his pubis into a runway. Most other actors with a dumb maw like his are barely qualified to do anything other than butterflykick good guys, but Tatum is good enough to carry this film on his own.
Not that he has to. Soderbergh has never had a problem getting talent to work for him, and Magic Mike has a lot of up-and-comers – Matt Bomer, Betsy Brandt, Joe Manganiello – just playing mostly thankless roles. And that doesn’t even include Matthew McConaughey.
McConaughey, like Tatum, is an actor with more talent than his natural good looks would suggest, and he plays the elder statesman stripper in Magic Mike with scummy breeze. To say nothing of the blessing we get when he reprises his most famous line on multiple occasions.
Beyond the cast, there’s a lot of work here that elevates the material above She-sploitation fare. Even the love story for Mike avoids being about falling for the perfect lady. Meeting that subject, Paige, in the midst of his life-in-the-fast-lane existence as a Stripper, she’s a lot of things that he’s not – stable, not immediately charming, even a little boring. That he falls for her says less about true love than the kind of person he thinks he might want to be.
Compared with the rest of Soderbergh’s filmography, Magic Mike fails to peak its head above the director’s other movies. Aside from the, uh, “performance” scenes (of which there are many), Soderbergh is up to his usual-of-recent voyeuristic filmmaking, utilising odd angles and point-blank delivery that elevates a solid but conventional script that should have played very conventionally. Soderbergh’s technique injects a lot of cold vivacity that keeps it from fitting in with the kinds of movies the Trailer suggests.