Movie review by Greg Carlson
While Steven Soderbergh continues to postpone his self-proclaimed “retirement” to the surprise of absolutely nobody who goes to the movies, “Magic Mike” marks another curious title in the director’s eclectic filmography. Also known as the male stripper movie loosely inspired by star Channing Tatum’s own experiences, “Magic Mike” echoes any number of thematic concerns Soderbergh expressed in “The Girlfriend Experience” in 2009. Tatum’s ambitious, entrepreneurial Mike is at one point denied a loan at the bank despite the thick stacks of bills he flashes from his briefcase, but Soderbergh is less concerned with making a statement about current economic hardship than he is with sketching the oft-told version of the American Dream in which a little talent and a lot of ambition results in a happy ending.
The throwback Warner Bros. logo opening the film indicates Soderbergh’s desired vintage, hedonist vibe, in which the all-male revue at Tampa’s Xquisite keeps the party going long after the spotlights cool. As club owner Dallas, Matthew McConaughey douses his employees with the same amount of snake oil he splashes on his female clientele. The actor puts his drawl into overdrive, and Dallas is the closest McConaughey has come to reprising the sleazy cadences that defined his breakout performance as Mike Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused” almost twenty years ago.
Alongside articles on the success of “Magic Mike” with gay men, any number of web-based reports suggests that females in the audiences far outnumber males. In spite of the allure of decadence, debauchery, and hard bodies on display, the film sticks with the MPAA rating system’s conventional expectation prohibiting significant male full-frontal nudity in R designated releases. It might be a stretch to claim that “Magic Mike” is wholesome, but one of the movie’s underlying themes is the familiar conceit that eroticized dancing for money is something done as a means to an end and not an end in itself (see “Flashdance” for a classic example).
As a filmmaker, Soderbergh has demonstrated a level of competency and consistency aligning him more with studio workhorses of Hollywood’s golden age than with the stylistically identifiable auteur directors who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Like the legendary Michael Curtiz, Soderbergh can deliver the goods in multiple genres and with varying budgets – and he often does so at the rate of more than one movie per year. Strong with performers, plot, and pace, Soderbergh is also well-known for his hands-on technical expertise, photographing his own work under the pseudonym Peter Andrews and often editing as Mary Ann Bernard.
Even dramas about dancing are required to deliver the choreographed goods, and Soderbergh stages the routines with confidence and zeal. The various numbers, built around familiar fantasies, include what may be the summum bonum of male erotic dancing: the stripper/cop confusion trope, recently featured and parodied to perfection in the “Pier Pressure” episode of “Arrested Development.” Tatum’s moves may not exactly rival Gene Kelly’s footwork, but the actor’s athleticism, charisma, and sense of humor all combine to provide him with his strongest vehicle to date.