Magic Mike (review)

Magic Mike red light Channing Tatum

It’s Got No Clothes

For a movie about guys taking their clothes off, Magic Mike is rather tame, and rather dull. Magic it certainly ain’t. Though the general consensus among fans seems to be that this is a film “for women” — because apparently if women aren’t looking for romance in a flick, they’re looking for naked men — it completely ignores women in all the ways it can, eliminating them from central positions in the story and not even bothering to be female-gazey with either its visual or narrative perspective. This is a workplace bromantic comedy about men made by men from a male perspective for, it would seem, a male audience — the workplace just happens to be a strip club. Even those scaredy-cat boys terrified that looking upon semi-naked manflesh might infect them with Teh Gay needn’t fear: the camera lingers nowhere untoward and there’s nothing salacious here.

A bit of the salacious might have brought some necessary spice to the proceedings.
The bromantic couple is Mike (Channing Tatum: The Vow, 21 Jump Street) — who does construction work by day in Tampa, Florida, and stripper work by night — and young Adam (Alex Pettyfer: In Time, I Am Number Four), who appears to be an almost complete fuckup in all aspects of his life and latches on Mike the moment their eyes meet over roofing tiles baking in the sun. Adam is such a moldable nonentity that letting himself get pushed onstage at the club where Mike strips seems barely more of a thing than allowing Mike to give him a ride home: Adam greets it all with a shrug and a vacant glaze in his eyes. Hardly the most compelling guy to be telling a story about. Nor is Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) as their stripping singing boss, who hosts the whole shebang, both within the narrative and in a sort of meta sense, as if his entire career as an onscreen skeeze has been leading to this very moment, in which the whole point of his being here is to leer and strip down for our “enjoyment.”

So, Mike, then? The film is named for him, after all, and the script — by first-timer Reid Carolin (who also appears in the film) — is based on Tatum’s own life. He once worked as a stipper, and hence we might expect that Magic Mike might offer some fascinating insight into why Mike strips, what he gets from it, how he feels about being treated like a piece of meat by crowds of women he doesn’t know: you know, the sort of things tales about people in unusual lines of work tend to focus on. But Tatum remains a completely uninteresting actor, even when portraying himself… or else he is as tediously shallow as Mike, who professes to not much beyond enjoying piles of money and random female attention. Oh, there is some very brief discussion about how Mike is saving up to open his own business making custom furniture, and the briefest glimpse of his work, but Tatum is unable to adequately convey a man with even the simplest creative urges, and the script leaves this supposed ambition of Mike’s as a mere plot contrivance laid down in preparation for a complication later on.

Why should we be rooting for these guys? And what should we be rooting for them to do? “Strip more” seems to be the only thing in the cards for them, and for the movie… and color me underwhelmed even by this potentiality. I’ve never understood the appeal of watching total strangers take their clothes off, and I still don’t: perhaps if we’d met some of Alex and Mike’s clients, some enlightenment could be had. Instead, there’s just the unquestioned assumption that what we’re watching is “sexy.” And yet there’s no joy, no leering, no shock, no awe, no nothing in how director Steven Soderbergh (Haywire, Contagion) stages the strip sequences. They’re just straightforward caricatures of masculinity — here’s a firefighter! here’s a Ken doll! — that can’t even be bothered to be cheesy. They’re just shockingly blah.

Forget about rooting for Alex and Mike. I don’t even understand why we should be thinking about them at all.

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