American filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has been threatening to retire. But no auteur’s career is complete, it now seems, until he has coaxed an Oscar-worthy dry hump out of Channing Tatum. Nor until he’s directed men in trenchcoats doing things to umbrellas that would make Gene Kelly weep. So Soderbergh has made ‘Magic Mike’ – a fun, throwaway film about male strippers. The premise alone will be enough to put off some of his fans. Which is a shame, because Soderbergh being Soderbergh, he brings his grungy A-game to the butt ’n’ thrust of male stripping.
Tatum stars and is credited as a producer. The idea for the film came from eight months he spent aged 18 working as a stripper. He is Mike, the main attraction in a small-time Florida strip joint. Each of the club’s artistes has his shtick: Latino stud; hairy biker; David Gandy lookalike; Big Dick Richie… well, you can guess his specialism. Tatum’s Mike is the all-American boy-next-door, starting his routines in a hoodie. By day he works on a building site where he discovers Adam (British actor Alex Pettyfer), who he trains as the club’s hot new act and whose sister (Cody Horn) he falls for. Mike fancies himself as an entrepreneur. Stripping is a means to an end and he really wants to set up a furniture design business.
Until recently Tatum was best known for looking no-neck-hard in action movies and for the odd lunky romantic lead. ‘Magic Mike’ should change that. As well as those dry humps, Soderbergh coaxes a sweet, sympathetic performance out of him as a man hitting 30 (virtually washed-up in this game) with the creeping realisation that his life might not be the thrill ride he once believed.
But it’s Matthew McConaughey who steals ‘Magic Mike’ as the club’s spray-tanned owner, Dallas, who’s convinced he’s the messiah of male stripping. McConaughey throws himself do-or-die into the role. ‘We are the cock rocking kings of Florida,’ he proclaims, hand on leather-clad crotch, with the demonic swagger of a Southern Baptist preacher on the turn.
The dance sequences are hilarious and shamelessly aimed at the girls’- night-out crowd. Admittedly, the script is a little routine and lazy in the Hollywood boy-meets-girl mould. But Soderbergh grasps the campness of this world: backstage you’ll find one guy shaving his legs, another behind a sewing machine reinforcing the gusset of his spangly gold G-string, while another pumps away at his manhood (that’s Joe Manganiello from ‘True Blood’ as Big Dick Richie – and, no, you don’t get a good look). And when Adam falls down the rabbit hole with drugs-and-rum types, Soderbergh slips into realism mode (no doubt there will be some fast-forwarding of these bits when the DVD comes out). Now, all we need is for some bright spark to come along with a 3D version.