LA Film Fest 2012: Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike”

By Craig Kennedy – June 24th, 2012; 11:11 pm

Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike
The Closing Night Film of the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival
Photo by Claudette Barius
Steven Soderbergh’s last movie was an action flick centered on a woman. For his next trick, he’s turned the tables around once more and made a comic stripper movie where the dancers are men. Inspired by producer/star Channing Tatum’s own experiences as an 18-year-old stripper, Magic Mike is a beefcake picture that 25 years ago might’ve starred Tom Cruise or Patrick Swayze. Think of it as a slightly smarter take on something like Cocktail… and I’ll just leave you to enter your own cock and tail joke here, but suffice it to say there is plenty of both. In fact, if the random squeals erupting from the audience at the film’s LA Film Festival World Premiere this evening are indicative, Magic Mike could do a lot of business as a raucous girls’ (or gays’) night out picture. It’s a gleeful objectification of the male form. There’s some cheesecake for husbands and boyfriends too (Olivia Munn topless! Commence collective nerdgasm!), but mainly they’ll just have to content themselves with dreams of being every woman’s physical fantasy like Mike and his pals.

After making a solid splash in the indie pic A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, I have to admit I’d begun writing off Channing Tatum as an empty hunk of meat. Earlier this year though, he proved he had a flare for comedy in 21 Jump Street and he brings a lot of humor and charisma (with or without clothes) to the role of Mike, the hottest male stripper in Tampa. Though he’s the best, Mike has dreams of going legitimate and starting his own furniture making business. Alas, he finds credit hard to come by despite all of the cash he makes nights. Enter hunky and brooding Adam, a 19-year-old that Mike meets at his daytime construction job. Adam has the raw material to become a stripping superstar if only Mike can bring a little refinement to bear. He takes Adam under his wing and promises Adam’s older sister that he’ll watch out for him.

I think you can pretty much connect most of the narrative dots from here. Story isn’t really Magic Mike’s strong suit. It’s really about the milieu and the characters and the performances, oh and the rippling hunks of man flesh. If that’s a problem for you, then you probably already know to stay away based on the trailer. If it’s not, you get a winning performance from Channing Tatum who is compelling on stage and off. Also terrific is Matthew McConaughey who seems to be having the time of his life getting up on stage and making women squeal with delight. Everyone in fact seems to be having a fabulous time, except for Alex Pettyfer whose Adam is mostly an unlikable, unintelligent and uninteresting lump. It’s actually a little hard to believe Mike puts up with him as long as he does.

Soderbergh’s contribution is mainly in the digital cinematography and in the nice, loose performances he teases out of his cast. Much as with his underrated action pic Haywire, he has nothing especially profound to say about art or the human condition or anything else and that’s probably for the best. It seems he’s just set out to make the best male stripper movie that $5 million can buy and he’s completely pulled it off. It might not be that deep and the story is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but Magic Mike makes up for it by being light, funny and charming. Yes, it’s sexy too for anyone but the most uptight of homophobes.