Magic Mike was a marvelous time: the best I’ve had at the movies this year – the male gaze as male graze. If I’m to believe audience response, Channing Tatum performing Ginuwine’s “Pony” will become as epochal as John Travolta swinging his hips to “Night Fever” or Patrick Swayze to “Love Man” in Dirty Dancing: an expert bit of choreography humanized by a performer committed to it. Tatum’s even got Swayze’s drawl; forming sentences hurts his jaw and brain. Matthew McConaughey matches him. Like Gig Young in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, he was born to play an oily, oil-covered emcee, every line the kind of cheesy double entendre beloved by ladies who want the sexy without the sex. He even shows menace in a confrontation with Tatum: “You’re only worth the money you pry out of their fuckin’ purses.”
That scene, by the way, and others in which McConaughey massages and caresses his male crew’s torsos, sticking his crotch into their asses, have little erotic heat. During Adam’s first Ecstacy-fueled tryst, when encouraged with can-do charm by one of his stripper bros to grope said stripper bro’s wife, Soderbergh dims the lights after Adam and the friend exchange “I love you”s. A followup was elided. Threesome? Self-aware but blind to anything but entertainment, Magic Mike is homosocial without the homosex.
Set in the condo communities, beaches, and night life of Tampa Bay’s Ybor City, Magic Mike is Steven Soderbergh’s first film since Erin Brockovich to invigorate a genre piece (a bald Saturday Night Fever-Dirty Dancing amalgam) with today’s economic realities. I don’t want to give this aspect too much credit. Watching Mike (Channing Tatum) sweetly beg an uptight bank executive for a small business loan (the stripper’s life is temporary, he thinks) and enjoy single malt scotch after hours doesn’t prove Soderbergh’s commitment to showing how the pleasure industry survives in Great Recession-era America; Mike’s most absurd character trait – making “designer” furniture” out of spare parts – is the kind of nonsense in Reid Carolin’s script that Soderbergh hurries through. He doesn’t go fast enough through the movie’s last half hour, though, during which things get pious quickly, as if it were apologizing for indulging in male flesh and drugs. In thirty minutes we get vomit (a Buñuelian touch: a pet pig chows down on it), an OD, a lecture, and a teary-eyed tatum, er, Tatum, the last a pathetic thing. The didacticism takes a cue from two dud performances: as “the Kid” Alex Pettyfer suggests Ashton Kutchner missing a frontal lobe, and Cody Horn has the grim inflexibility of a senator’s wife. But this puckered white chick who prefers breakfast to any meal with a “daylight” job is The It Girl for Tatum the capitalist-to-be. They’ll be poor together!