When I went to see Magic Mike on opening night, in a theatre full of groups of giddy ladies with just a few gentlemen sprinkled throughout, I was probably not only the sole straight male spectator in there, but also most likely one of the only ones who was there not to see hot guys work it, but to see director Steven Soderbergh continue his streak of great filmmaking.
I must sound like a broken record by now, but I just can’t get over how prolific and versatile the man is. There’s really no one else like him, at least as far as contemporary American directors go. Following two astonishing genre movies – 2011’s sci-fi/horror/disaster thriller Contagion and this January’s badass action flick Haywire – we find him seemingly going back to doing a lower-budget, character-driven film.
Then again, even though it has Soderbergh’s cinematographer alter ego Peter Andrews interestingly playing around with filters and oddball angles while editor Mary Ann Bernard (another Soderbergh alias) gives the film a somewhat atypical stop-and-start rhythm, Magic Mike is actually one of the most entertaining movies he’s ever made, further blurring the line between indie and Hollywood, auteur and commercial.
It’s not Ocean’s Eleven-slick, but it’s certainly not a Godardesque experiment à la The Girlfriend Experience. And unlike that peculiarly sexless Sasha Grey-as-an-escort film, Soderbergh’s male strippers joint delivers the goods, skin-wise! I’m not gay, but I still have to admit that the stars of the film are incredibly cut and, for the most part, they certainly know how to move.
Channing Tatum, whose own experiences as a stripper back when he was an 18-year-old in Tampa, Florida, is particularly impressive. He was the star of the first Step Up after all, so imagine that, but with him taking his clothes off! More importantly, Tatum oozes with easygoing charm as the title character of Magic Mike, getting a lot of laughs and also making us care for his character.
In a way, it reminded me of Mark Wahlberg’s performance in Boogie Nights, and Soderbergh’s film in general reminds a bit of that early Paul Thomas Anderson directorial effort, in the way the first half conveys the excitement of the sex-industry lifestyle (“Women, money and a good time,” as Mike puts it) and the second shows the darker side of this world. Now, Magic Mike never gets all that dark and right up to the wonderful final scene, it remains a really enjoyable romp, notably thanks to the unforced quality of the flirtatious relationship Mike has with Cody Horn, who plays the no-nonsense sister of his protégé (Alex Pettyfer).
The camaraderie between the strippers is also tons of fun, the whole ensemble (Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodríguez, Joe Manganiello, etc.) grooving nicely together, on and off the stage. And then there’s Matthew McConaughey, who almost steals the film as Dallas, the owner/MC of the strip club, with his “all right, all right, all right” Texas drawl and Frank T.J. Mackey-style predatory machismo.
At the risk of losing my comic book geek credentials, Magic Mike is so much more satisfying than The Amazing Spider-Man (Emma Stone notwithstanding) it’s not even funny.