Steven Soderberg’s Magic Mike is at once fleshy and skeletal. I say fleshy because its subject is a male strip club in Tampa, Florida, where sculpted beefcakes dance and thrust and expose themselves to crowds of hollering cougars and bridal parties. I say skeletal because, despite Soderberg’s rapt stylistic groove and his actors’ unerring commitment, the director never gives his story or characters enough meat, never raises the dramatic tension, and never shows us what these dancers are sacrificing for a g-string full of one-dollar-bills: i.e. their souls.
In fact, for a vast majority of the film’s runtime, Magic Mike’s central studs couldn’t have it any sweeter. Off the bat, Mike (Channing Tatum) recruits 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to work at Xquisite, a male burlesque house in sunny Florida. The place is owned and operated by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), an aging performer with aspirations to start a new, bigger, better club in Miami. Mike, Adam and the rest of the humping, gyrating crew—who could use a bit more personality if you ask me—are rolling in cash. They spend their nights partying it up with randy females and their days lounging on the warm, sandy Floridian beaches.
Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? For too much of Magic Mike, that’s all we witness, and by the time some much-needed drama is finally introduced, it’s nearly too late. Adam gets mixed up in drugs and Mike starts to let two relationships slip away. One with Joanna (Olivia Munn), a gorgeous late night booty call with a more respectable façade, and one with Adam’s cute sister Brooke (Cody Horn), who disapproves of Mike’s decadent lifestyle and vocational preference. Inspired loosely by Channing Tatum’s actual pre-fame career as a male stripper, Magic Mike does have style. Soderberg’s films always glisten with an aesthete’s fastidious cinematographic polish. And on stage, Tatum’s got moves, like a hip-hop sex machine on overdrive.
In the end, though, Magic Mike has too much of a good time. By the eighth full-fledged strip routine, it’s no longer entertaining, just kind of numbing and banal. Boogie Nights is an obvious inspiration, but for a film about pornography, that movie spent less time on money shots and more time exploring how its pornographers were actually human beings, with dreams and regrets and personal hardships. Magic Mike is more concerned with putting on a show than it is with uncovering the real people behind the cop uniforms and codpieces.
In its brightest, most focused and indelible scenes, the film flirts with the idea that perhaps Mike’s identity was lost behind the tacky getups—that by playing Magic Mike all the time, he can never just be Mike. An aspiring custom furniture designer, he walks into the bank for a loan in a costume of respectability, a nicely pressed suit, a leather briefcase and gold-rimmed glasses. He’s so obviously a caricature of a prosperous business-type high roller that the scene serves as one of the film’s best, a moment of absolute identity disillusionment. Sadly, such revelations are few. Magic Mike is just too busy thrusting and hip shaking to give its protagonist the movie he deserves.