Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey add to their arse-nal of recent impressive performances this year with Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012), a surprisingly sincere and intelligent comedy about male strippers. Mike’s (Tatum) passion lies in constructing ‘one-of-a-kind’ pieces of custom furniture, yet the bulk of his income comes from stripping at a seedy Tampa nightclub run by bare chested entrepreneur Dallas (McConaughey). He meets the wayward Adam (Alex Pettyfer) whilst working on a construction site and soon takes him under his wing, exposing him to the lucrative world of male stripping.
After successfully shifting the critical perceptions of himself with his uninhibited and self-deprecating performance in 21 Jump Street (2012), Tatum has once again proved there’s more to the actor’s repertoire than sullenly pouting at the camera whilst flexing his considerable muscles. McConaughey also shines as the film’s eccentric club owner, recalling Tom Cruises out of the blue, screwball turn in P. T. Anderson’s Magnolia (1999).
Despite starring opposite such stellar performers, Pettyfer also succeeds in engaging the audience with his naive stupidity – culminating in a ménage-a-trios of surprisingly assured star turns. The bountiful humour in Soderbergh’s multifaceted comedy ranges from crude physical absurdity to smart, well-constructed dialogue that seamlessly merges with the film’s outlandish setting. Genuinely more hit than it is miss, Magic Mike maintains this hilarious pace for much longer than expected and it’s only in the final act when lingering, cliched sentiment finally raises its ugly head that the film begins to drag.
The most perplexing element of Magic Mike is just how it’ll reach its target audience. Clearly marketed through its garish posters at a female/gay demographic, the film itself is actually far more of ‘bromance’, written by and for heterosexual men – albeit straight men unafraid to view Matthew McConaughey in an ill-fitting tank top. Indeed, there’s equally as much female nudity (much of it far more revealing than that of the men) and a glut of misogynistic dialogue, including such delightfully misguided lines as “How pregnant did you get that girl’s mouth last night”. There’s no doubt that Tatum-baited audience members will enjoy the film; it’s just a shame its real target audience will miss out.
No degree of positive feedback will alter public perceptions of Magic Mike’s fleshy content, but much like the film’s titular stripping protagonist, there’s far more hidden behind the oiled chest of Soderbergh’s genuinely enjoyable US comedy.