The much-talked about Magic Mike (talked about because it involves male strippers, so people can feel a frisson of naughtiness just attending the movie) is surprisingly good. The movie manages to be simultaneously very funny, quite risqué, deeply depressing, and unexpectedly heart-warming. It works because Channing Tatum (or do I mean Tatum Channing? I can never keep the guy’s name straight) is a genuine acting talent, with a gorgeous body, and real dancing skill. It also works because Matthew McConaughey, who was always a bit too sleazy to make it as a romantic lead, burns up the screen as a sleazy strip club owner, who keeps his stable of dancers both inspired and in line.
The plot is fairly simple: Tatum plays Magic Mike who is not so much a hustler as he is a striver. He’s constantly on the move, trying this and trying that as a way to fund his real goal of become a custom furniture maker. He doesn’t take advantage of other people, but he cheats himself by sticking to the lucrative, but degrading, stripping business, for which he has a genuine talent.
Mike’s self-delusions about a “future” in the strip club business are encouraged by his employer, the narcissistic, slick, but weirdly charismatic Dallas, a fully realized, but very unpleasant character that McConaughey makes his own. Mike thinks he’s working his way to being an equity partner with Dallas, but it becomes apparent within minutes of his first screen appearance that Dallas doesn’t share. He’s a petty demagogue who nurses “the talent” solely for his own self-aggrandizement.
Mike is drifting along, womanizing, drinking, and drugging, even as he tries to keep track of all his little money-making schemes in pursuit of his furniture design goal. His life reaches a crossroad when he meets Adam (aka “The Kid”), played by Alex Pettyfer with aimless, juvenile charm. Adam blew off a football scholarship, and is now crashed on his sister’s couch.
Mike takes pity on this lost soul, and introduces him to the world of stripping, which instantly appeals to Adam. Mike then meets Adam’s down-to-earth sister, Brooke (played by a pleasantly non-surgically augmented Cody Horn). When she expresses her dismay at Adam’s new career path, Mike promises Brooke that he’ll watch out for Adam.
And that’s the movie’s premise: Mike, by keeping his eye on Adam, gains an unpleasant perspective on his narrow, tarnished little world, even as Adam, awash in sex and money, loses his perspective. I won’t say anything more other than to say that the movie decently, and intelligently, plays the characters along to a reasonably satisfying, and somewhat surprising, resolution.
For those of you planning to see the movie, a few warnings about the movie’s sex content: It’s high, so high that I’m surprised it only has an R rating and not an NC-17. Both male and female (especially male) characters just manage to avoid total nudity. Even if that doesn’t bother you, understand that this is nudity and sex without love or any other uplifting emotional content (such as liking someone, or even knowing who they are). The dancers, buffed, shaved, tanned, and polished, writhe around on the floor or wiggle their crotches in the faces of the screaming women in the audience at the strip club, and otherwise display such exaggerated sexuality that most of the people in the audience were screaming with laughter.
I laughed with everyone else, but inside I shuddered. You see, despite all the nudity and sex on display, Magic Mike is a surprisingly unsexy movie. Whether or not Tatum and Director Steven Soderbergh intended to do so, they made what amounts to a cautionary tale about sex devoid of any human connection. For the most part, it’s all rather gross. Watching from what must be an old-fashioned female perspective, I found the male dancing more homoerotic than hetero-erotic. I love watching good dancers, but watching men simulate sex on stage was unappealing, to say the least. This best way I can describe it is to say that the sex and faux-sex was the scary dehumanization of what the Judeo-Christian culture envisions as a core human connection. It therefore didn’t surprise me that Soderbergh had a miniature pig wander through many of the scenes involving both this peculiarly lonely sex and its often ugly aftermath.
Don’t let Magic Mike’s stripper theme deter you from seeing it. This is a good story about a lost, but decent, young man who is trying to “get it right.” It’s also, despite all the sordid displays of flesh and sundry other vulgarities, quite the morality tale.