REVIEW: Magic Mike. Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. R16. State Cinema.
As any regular moviegoer knows, trailers can be deceptive. Such is the case with Magic Mike. After suffering through Channing Tatum's wooden performances in the Step Up and G I Joe movies, the trailer for this drama about male strippers made it look like a contrived showcase for his good looks and dance skills. I should have taken more notice of the fact that Steven Soderbergh was in the director's chair.
Tatum worked as a stripper before he got his big break in modelling and movies, and was keen to make a film based on his experiences. Fortunately, instead of being formulaic eye candy, Magic Mike is a neatly crafted cautionary tale with good performances, a good script and smart direction. A bunch of hunky guys get their gear off at regular intervals, but that isn't the focus of the story.
Tatum stars as Mike, who's a hit with the ladies at a club in Tampa, Florida, but his dream is to start a custom furniture business.
He meets 19-year-old university dropout Adam (Alex Pettyfer), gets him a job at the club and takes him under his wing, despite the concerns of Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn).
Mike is at a loose end emotionally and flirts with Brooke, who's understandably cautious about getting involved with him, while Adam takes advantage of all the fringe benefits of his new job.
Scriptwriter and co-producer Reid Carolin's only previous credit is a documentary about the genocide in Rwanda. It's quite a leap from there to male strippers, but he's woven a story free of contrivances, where the dialogue feels natural, the humour is subtle and the grimmer moments aren't overdone.
It's a good match with Soderbergh's naturalistic style of direction. He plays things straight, depicting a Florida that looks bleached by the sun rather than warm and inviting, where dreams wither and uncertainty abounds. The film's R16 rating is probably due to the proliferation of bare bums, but it's tamer than some big-name television dramas - the strip scenes have a lot of humour, and sex is hinted at rather than portrayed.
Maybe it's the semi-autobiographical story that brings out the best in Tatum, who makes Mike a genuinely affecting character. He may not be a rocket scientist, but he's a nice guy - he'd have to be to care about a wastrel like Adam, whose bad qualities are signalled early on.
It's hard to understand what Mike sees in Brooke, who's defensive to the point of negativity, but Horn (who looks like a young Hilary Swank) plays the part well. Matthew McConaughey threatens to steal the show, however, throwing every bit of his chiselled, hyperactive charm into his performance as Mike's boss Dallas, providing energy and laughs, the best abs, and a painful-looking pair of short shorts.
In Mike's world, titillation comes second to unadorned, sometimes unpleasant reality - there are constant reminders that his job is, after all, a job. Guys may still prefer The Full Monty, but Magic Mike feels more honest and satisfying.
- © Fairfax NZ News