Could it be magic?
When I told a couple of friends that I was taking my boyfriend to see Channing Tatum dance in a strip club in Magic Mike, there was an exultant, “Oh, that looks sooo bad!” They had the so-bad-it’s-good bloodlust; they were hoping for Showgirls crossed with Coyote Ugly crossed with Staying Alive. “It’s a Steven Soderbergh movie,” I said, and I was met with a few blank looks. “As in Traffic and Erin Brockovich and Oceans 11?” Silence. I decided not to mention Sex, Lies and Videotape.
Whoever was behind the marketing for Magic Mike decided that they were not going to even mention Soderbergh, let alone promote him. They were going to focus the ads on a shirtless, occasionally pantsless Tatum and, in various stages of undress, his costars Alex Pettyfer (I am Number Four), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (White Collar), and Matthew McConaughey, all looking like Men’s Fitness models. The only clue that the movie might be more than hot guys stripping to Top 40 music for an hour and half came with how stunning some of the visuals were – washes of sunlight, almost iridescent bleeds of color. We also saw a few seconds of what appears to be some snappy acting.
The marketing worked, because when we saw the movie on opening night, the showing was packed, and it was packed with very excited young women, some of whom were very drunk. (There also appeared to be seven or eight gay guys in the audience.) The first sight of Tatum was met with screams from the audience, and the screaming continued throughout the film whenever a man took off his shirt or showed his ass. There was a lot of screaming. I haven’t been to a movie with this much audience participation since I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show 20 years ago.
As fun as it was to watch all of these gorgeous men show off their perfect abs and how nicely they fit into thongs, the rest of the movie is also deserving of a good scream, too. Soderbergh’s visuals are, as usual, full of unexpected colors and inventive points of view; his edits are quick in places, naturalistic in others, but always propel the story perfectly. And Soderbergh’s direction of Reid Carolin’s very funny and very smart script made it seem as if the entire movie was improvised; everyone seemed totally at ease, their emotions always believable. There’s an actual plot, even if it is cribbed from All About Eve: Mike (Tatum) is the star dancer of Xquisite, a male revue in Tampa run by Dallas (McConaughey), who has the ego the size of the state of Florida and delusions of grandeur to match. Mike is a professional, makes good money, and has dreams of becoming a furniture designer. He meets 19-year-old Adam (Pettyfer), who is stunning and directionless, and helps him get into the show. Adam’s uptight sister Brooke (Horn) disapproves, and she becomes an excellent target for Mike’s endless charm. But as Adam turns into a star, he also turns into a jerk, and the ramifications of Adam’s bad behavior and Dallas’s lack of integrity make Mike question is path.
But the best thing about Magic Mike is Tatum himself. Those of us who saw him in Step Up know he can dance. Watching his long, lean muscular body doing acrobatic hip hop will either will take your breath away or make you scream. He has an odd beauty, the blank face of a dumb jock. This makes him both unthreatening and unspecific enough to serve as a blank screen onto which we can project our fantasies. But his face’s lack of actorly expression allows his audience to underestimate his skill. Because he can act. Magic Mike forces him to articulate almost every emotion, from flirtation to grief, and he is convincing at every turn. Tatum is already a star, but contrary to how Magic Mike was marketed, he may actually turn out to be serious one.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Reid Carolin
Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Matthew McConaughey
At your local multiplex