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Remember Showgirls? How about Striptease? If so, do you have fond memories of either of them? The gritty world of strip clubs has been explored on screen over and over again, but perverse pageantry almost always highjacks the film, pushing out all pivotal narrative juices. Even director Steven Soderbergh, an artist proven more than adept with the language of fictional cinema, has fallen victim to the sirens of male nudity. Magic Mike sees Soderbergh abandoning narrative integrity in favor of extensive strip sequences featuring thong clad hunks that guarantee an adamant young female audience, story or not.
Teaming with Soderbergh a second time after the lukewarm Haywire, muscle man Channing Tatum plays Mike, a veteran stripper at the top of his game, working days as a roofer with dreams of starting his own custom furniture business down the line. His too-old-to-strip boss (Matthew McConaughey) gives him a cut of the door for his dual role as his star attraction and after hours bookkeeper, but Mike has no intention of following in his footsteps. After floating a young man named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) at his day job, Mike takes him under his wing, and throws him into the spotlight where he learns the pleasures and debauchery of a life made one crinkled dollar bill at a time. Mike promises Adam's sister, Joanna (Olivia Munn), to keep him safe, but young men will do as they may, and Adam finds himself slinging X, that is, until he finds himself in over his head. In the midst of all of this, Mike's dreams fall by the wayside when he makes two fatal decisions - to fall for Joanna and bail out her good for nothing brother.
Though it seems there is plenty of material for Soderbergh and friends to work with, narrative threads are cut at every opportunity for in-depth examination. Why is Mike such a loyal friend to someone he quite literally just met, especially when his dreams are nearly within reach? What happens to Adam after the obvious love connections are made between Mike and Joanna? These two major questions don't even come to mind on screen. Instead we are treated to Tatum and company stripping, night after night, over and over again. At one pivotal moment, Mike visits a bank, dapper as all get out, hoping to find financing for his furnishing project. In this scene we get a glimpse of the depth the character could possess, but we soon return to the club, hoping at some point we at least see his love of craftsmanship in action. We don't.
There's been quite a lot of talk of Soderbergh hanging up his director's cap to focus on painting. I'm certain this is not the film he wants to go out on. We all know he is more than capable of cinematic sorcery, but his experimentation with male strippers is just as sour as the concept sounds. There are small moments of beauty hiding within, like an opening crane shot that scans the craggy peak of a house overlooking the Atlantic, a hint of a spark between its foxy leads, and strangely hypnotic dance numbers featuring a highly athletic Tatum, but they serve as brief reminders of what could have been. We've got one more Soderbergh/Tatum collaboration in the pipeline to look forward to coming next year. Let's hope they can at least get one right.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: June 29, 2012