Several things can be expected from Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s latest exploration of sex and the sex industry: Channing Tatum’s ass, gasps and moans from female members of the audience, Channing Tatum stripping, screams and catcalls, Matthew McConaughey’s ass, snickers followed by silence. That’s not saying Matthew McConaughey’s bronzed buttocks aren’t as impressive as Tatum’s paler posterior, but McConaughey’s revelation comes much later in the movie, after the protagonists prove themselves mostly unworthy of audience sympathy or anti-hero status — and after the lingering penis-pump shot.
Yes, a penis-pump shot, as if Soderbergh needed to create a distraction from how uninteresting his examination of the lives of Tampa Bay-area male strippers had become by that point. Tatum’s assets provide the box-office bait, but Soderbergh’s presence suggested there might be some sociological depth to the film. Maybe there was, but Magic Mike is more Cocktail than American Gigolo, more Coyote Ugly than The Girlfriend Experience. Blame first-time screenwriter Reid Carolin for the flat, undeveloped characters, but … why, Soderbergh, why?
The casting choice of Alex Pettyfer (Beastly, I Am Number Four), who turns in a fairly listless performance as directionless, 19-year-old Adam, is a mystery as well. After the libertinism of Channing’s title character is established, Adam arrives at a construction site to help Mike tile roofs. Mike sizes Adam up as having no experience right away, and writes Adam off until running into him on the streets of party town Ybor City. Mike gets the minor into a club and tests the youngster’s mettle by challenging him to hit on some girls. It’s really a ruse that allows Mike to hand out fliers inviting the girls to a sleazy male strip club called Exquisite.
Dallas (McConaughey) is the owner of the club and prime motivator for the squad of strippers. Mike convinces Dallas that Adam has “something,” and pushes “The Kid” onto the stage in his red hoodie and Chuck Taylor All-Stars to prove it. Adam can’t dance, but he has no problem thrusting his crotch into the face of the girl he met earlier. Mike becomes his mentor of sorts, although Dallas is the one to give Adam a very bromantic intro-to-stripping session in front of a mirror. With the team complete, and the insinuation that Magic Mike and The Kid are now the marquee names, Dallas decides the boys are ready for a move to Miami where they will all become as successful as male strippers can be.
Unfortunately, the film becomes boring around the time Mike and Alex prove themselves to be white-trash low-lifes with few redeeming qualities. Carolin doesn’t seem to know where to take the story once the premise is established. Mike develops a crush on Adam’s earnest, hard-working sister (Cody Holt), but his dream of making custom furniture clouds his reality of a low-credit score and perhaps insufficient ability. There’s redemption for Mike in the end, but it’s as believable as the fantasy personas he creates for the stage.
Magic Mike Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Holt, directed by Steven Soderbergh. rated R, 110 mins