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Magic Mike

Leaving the theatre after a preview of Magic Mike this week, I heard a woman tell someone, “It wasn’t what I expected. I was disappointed.” Since I hadn’t expected much at all of Steven Soderbergh’s male-stripper movie, when it turned out to be significantly better than a real dog, I was a lot more engaged than I had anticipated I’d be. I expected something like the trashy, off-putting, Las Vegas-set Paul Verhoeven movie from 1995, Showgirls.

But Magic Mike is something else. I hadn’t taken adequate account of Soderbergh’s undeniably and reliably impressive skills. They’re amply in evidence. Nevertheless, I’ve got a mild but nagging suspicion that this movie owes its existence at least in part to the efforts of its pulchritudinous star, Channing Tatum. He’s not only a producer, but Reid Carolin’s script seems to incorporate at least a couple of purported Tatum biographical details. Like the titular hero he plays, Tatum is said to have been a construction worker and stripper in Florida in his youth. And the actor is athletically, sometimes spectacularly convincing in his on-stage routines. It’s more than his awesome looks, believe me.

The movie has the magical Mike working for a Tampa roofing company and stripping at night when he encounters Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a charmingly irresponsible and aimless 19-year-old, and takes him under his generous wing, even getting him a job at the strip club run by the professionally lubricious and ambitiously mercenary Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Adam lives with his stable, sensible older sister Brook (Cody Horn), who takes an amused but skeptical view of her brother’s new employment. The feckless Adam, however, revels in his new narcissistically, pecuniarily, and sexually gratifying life, to his and Mike’s eventual misfortune.

Soderbergh’s slick and often strikingly effective direction motors the movie around and over its cliches and implausibilities. He creates a visual ambiance and a social milieu that make the script seem more persuasive than it really is. He has the actors deliver lines in clipped, overlapping segments that establish a casually engaging veneer of naturalism.

But this movie harbors a romantic, even moralistic urge that seems to conflict with all the aggressive eroticism it keeps whipping up. It’s hard to be sure where its real sentiments lie, if they exist. At one or two points, there even seems to be an “Occupy” critique of capitalist hustling, which the predictably neat ending seems to recapitulate. It’s hard to take Magic Mike’s plotting choices as seriously as it wants us to.

Watch the trailer for Magic Mike

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