At Xquisite—an all-male strip club in Tampa, Florida—there’s a flavor of fantasy for every female customer: Tarzan, hot cops, a Ken doll brought to life. As its owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) preaches to his im-pec-able performers, “You are the husband they never had! You are that dreamboat guy that never came along!”
And there’s a lot of dreaming going on in Magic Mike, a film about a post-recession everyman, who wants more than his Jello-shot lot. For years, stripper Mike (Channing Tatum) has been saving his sweat-stained singles with the hopes of starting his own business in custom-made furniture. But the venture is costly, and with the bank unwilling to give loans to a man with a low credit score, Mike must take on a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet.
On one such roofing gig, he encounters Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old college dropout, who can barely use a hammer. Unskilled and resentful of authority, Adam seems unfit for most kinds of traditional work. Taking pity on the kid’s cluelessness, Mike steers him to Xquisite, and, like the Pygmalion myth of old, uses his magic to mold Adam into a nightly Adonis.
Yes, it’s a brave nude world for Adam, and the viewer, as the film unveils a well-choreographed playground of pecs, props, and pleasure. For a teenage boy with a six-pack, what’s to hate? Sorority girls fill Adam’s underwear with cash, then stick around for their own striptease at the after party. But as such films as Boogie Nights have taught us, hedonism has its consequences. Drugs lead the protagonist into stormy seas, and Mike must grapple with the sordid realities of his occupation.
There’s a lot to like about Magic Mike — the choreography is applause-worthy, and Tatum, whose life experiences inspired the movie, performs his role with ease and energy. There’s also much to admire in the physique of the cast, who must have spent many hours at the gym preparing for their roles. But alas, the script shies away from such heavy-lifting, settling for a rote, cautionary tale of fame, rather than tackling the darker, edgier themes lingering behind the curtain.
But primarily, the story suffers from a lack of central conflict. McConaughey, as the owner of the club, is one of the potential villains, but he’s not quite dastardly or exploitative enough to fit the bill. The economic clime presents another possibility for struggle, but Mike’s business ambitions fall by the wayside in his inexplicable pursuit of Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), a role that should have been assigned to an actress more capable of carrying the film’s only female lead. Director Steven Soderbergh does what he can, but not even his oft-stunning cinematography can detract from these issues.
In Magic Mike, the ladies are best left in the audience. And if you’ve bought a ticket to this all-male revue,
chances are you’ll get what you came for.
An upstart male stripper is taken under the wing of a more experienced colleagues.