Steven Soderbergh has form as a cinematic tease. Films like Full Frontal, the Sasha Grey-starring Girlfriend Experience and Sex, Lies and Videotapes, his Palme d’Or winning debut, never quite lived up to their racy titles. But with Magic Mike, a semi-autobiographical vehicle for former stripper Channing Tatum, who takes the title role, you can rest assured he delivers on the (almost) naked chiseled hunk front. And what hunks! Soderbergh excels at egalitarian ensembles and Magic Mike is at its best when we’re hanging out with his likable cast of beefcakes, who range from Mickey Rourke lookalike and pro-wrestler Kevin Nash to dreamy cougar-bait Alex Pettyfer.
It’s Soderbergh who lets the side down, however. At various points in the episodic narrative you sense the director’s mind wondering: you get the impression he’s more concerned with the lens he’s shooting with rather than what the actors are doing within the frame, or perhaps Mr. Prolific (this is his third film released in 12 months) is thinking about the half-dozen other projects he has in the works. You can’t blame him for being bored though: with Reid Carolin’s loose a-star-is-born-esque screenplay, he’s working with material that’s thinner than the back side of Magic Mike’s star-spangled G-string.
Pettyfer, who’s pretty but vacant, plays The Kid, a college football burnout who’s taken under Mike’s wing and shown the erotic dancing ropes at the Xquisite, a Tampa strip joint with surprisingly wholesome dance routines. These high-concept numbers are also hilarious – Nash’s Tarzan shtick is a particular highlight, as is a group routine set to It's Raining Men complete with trench coats and umbrellas that, groin thrusting aside, could have been ripped from an MGM musical.
But off stage Magic Mike loses its woody. Where’s the drama, where’s the conflict? The Kid’s inevitable fall from grace, which includes an embarrassingly cliched night of ecstasy fueled hedonism, has all the heft of a HeBS campaign. More disappointing is that the early allusions to the current economic climate – these are young men who a generation ago could earn a good living as part of the unionised labour force, but are now required to put their strong upper bodies to less practical use – are quickly forgotten once Mike’s bland love story with The Kid’s uptight sister (Cody Horn) kicks in. The film gets by on the bump and grind charm of its players (Matthew McConaughey, as the club’s charismatic MC and stripping Peter Pan, is a revelation) but by the end you’ll be left as frustrated as the Xquisite’s horny clientele. This is dry hump cinema – fun but flaccid. [Jamie Dunn]