By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Is this a multiplex theater or a bachelorette party? In this case, both, because Magic Mike may be bringing out fifty shades of gray-haired ladies for girls’-night-out gawking.
Marketing buff actors as eye candy, Magic Mike is a dreary dramedy about naked ambition and struggling male strippers who are, literally and figuratively, making ends meet.
It was Channing Tatum whose eight-month, pre-Hollywood experience as a teenage stripper inspired this project, which was scripted by producer Reid Carolin, who served as one of the film’s producers along with Tatum.
Tatum stars as the title character, Mike Lane, a thirty-year-old veteran stripper — and a construction worker by day as well as a furniture designer wannabe and entrepreneur who hopes some day to market his own line of high-end furniture.
Seeming to have it all and taking on the role of role model, he gives life lessons and teaches the strip-club ropes to a new recruit, The Kid, a nineteen-year-old played by Alex Pettyfer – a college football player who walked away from the game early on – while tentatively romancing his protective medical-assistant sister, played by Cody Horn, who is intrigued but skeptical of Mike’s on-stage job.
They work in the club Xquisite in Tampa, doing bump-and-grind dance numbers and ending up wearing little other than thongs stuffed with wads of dollar bills. Magic is the star attraction at Xquisite, which is owned by Dallas, a former stripper now serving as the carnival-barker-like emcee, played by Matthew McConaughey, who’s certainly no stranger to big-screen shirtlessness.
Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, and Adam Rodriguez round out the chiseled performing staff.
Prolific director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven through Ocean’s Thirteen, Erin Brockovich, Contagion, Haywire), characteristically serving as his own cinematographer and editor, starts things off comedically and then lets the drama emerge in the film’s second half. But we never get sufficiently caught up in the film’s narrative conflicts or interested enough in any of the principal characters to feel emotionally invested in the outcome.
And Soderbergh makes the mistake of providing his untested cast with much too long a collective leash. Too many line readings beg for retakes, too many characters are trotted out to no effect whatsoever. The only actor who has a commanding enough screen presence and sense of comedy and knows what to do with them is McConaughey, who pretty much acts everyone else right off the screen. Tatum’s dance moves help to distract from his acting limitations, but Pettyfer is pitiful: his stardom remains a mystery as he, once again, registers as the kind of on-screen cipher who sucks the air out of every scene he’s in.
What Soderbergh – whose last movie, Haywire, was an action flick about a woman, while this one is a stripping flick about a man — is attempting to do here, in addition to turning material this shallow into a decent movie, is to subvert several gender stereotypes, and you get the distinct feeling that the opportunity to do just that is what drew him to this project.
He is also obviously exploring the economic struggles of working-class characters trying to better themselves and achieve the proverbial American Dream, which is why the film often seems to be just as much about money as it is about sex.
R-rated for, among other things, its nearly-full-Monty nudity and suggestive dancing, Magic Mike mostly serves as an eyeful for audience members craving, or curious about, a vicarious walk on the wild side.
So we’ll disrobe 2 stars out of 4 for one soggy seriocomic saga. Magic Mike is essentially a stripped-down stage revue featuring a narrative that’s as skimpy as a g-string.