With Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn. Written by Reid Carolin. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Rated R (for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use). 110 minutes.
A cliché-ridden script can be overcome by some dynamic performances, and there are some very strong performances in MAGIC MIKE. For the first half of the movie, one gets caught up in the world of male strippers at a Tampa, Florida club, particularly Mike (Channing Tatum), who is saving up money to start a custom furniture business. We follow his connections with a number of people and see he’s a good man in a seedy business.
His chief relationship is with his boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-stripper who owns the club. Dallas wants to expand the business and dangles a partnership before Mike, seducing him into to giving his all to the operation. Mike shows what a good proxy he is when he brings 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) into the operation. Adam is irresponsible but Mike promises Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) that he will watch out for him. He also develops a bantering relationship with her that has possibilities. In the meantime he’s engaging in mutually exploitive booty calls with Joanna (Olivia Munn), a psychiatrist-in-training who has a thing for three-ways.
We follow these characters over the summer months. The other strippers are barely sketched in and the women in the audience even less so. The burden of the story falls on Tatum. Having appeared in more than half a dozen movies in the last year, one would hope he would improve as an actor, and he has. He makes Mike engaging and one of the few characters in the film who isn’t a caricature or a cardboard cutout. His scenes with Horn have an easygoing pace to them as opposed to more heavy-handed dramas like “The Vow” and “Dear John” where the romantic relationships sank under the weight of the sappy scripts.
Pettyfer is okay as the film’s “bad boy,” not quite mature enough to appreciate how bad he’s screwing up, while Munn barely registers as the female horndog. The outstanding performance here is McConaughey who, like Alec Baldwin, has managed to segue from a mediocre career as a “leading man” to a fascinating one in character roles. His Dallas can be smooth, enticing, ferocious, and sometimes all three at once. It’s a part where there’s no reason to hold back and he doesn’t, making this one of the standout acting turns so far this year.
Of course the film never gets to the real issue, which is that women rarely objectify men’s bodies the way men do to women. The movie seems to be a man’s idea of what women think is hot and, not surprisingly, it’s all about lust and writhing bodies. Not until the very last scene is there even a hint that women just might be wired a bit differently than men.
“Magic Mike” is a near-miss, with a few good performances and enough power to hold your interest for a while before finally running out of steam.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.