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“There’s Magic In Them There Buns”

Steven Soderbergh has mined themes that once stunk up the theaters in Showgirls, Striptease and One Night In Heaven, and succeeded where others failed, by making Magic Mike, a ode to male strippers into a poignant, funny and sweet slice of life.  He provides enough eye candy to not cheat audience expectations, but at the core is a tumultuous bromance between a pied piper and the boy who gets the keys to the kingdom and squanders it all.

Mike (Channing Tatum) is a flim-flam man, one who cons himself into believing he’s an entrepreneur.  He has an auto-detailing service that we never see, leads a construction crew and hopes to secure financing for a custom furniture business.  He talks big, but the banks and the women he meet see him only as an object of his day job (or actually night job), as a stripper.  One day on a construction site, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a wayward kid with no direction.  Mike takes Adam under his wing and introduces him to the strip club, where Adam’s boyish naiveté is a hit with the housewives and he becomes a star attraction.  Adam loves the life, the women, the drugs, and the adulation — much to the chagrin to his more grounded sister Brooke (Cody Horn) who sees Mike as a terrible influence on her already immature brother.  Yet, even she can’t resist Mike’s obvious charms.

Magic Mike is a surprisingly clever film.  It subverts the Hollywood obsession with ogling female bodies, by turning the spotlight on beefcake.  Just like in the typical film, management (represented by oily Matthew McConaughey) objectifies and exploits his product.  The lovers discard the strippers as they would gum wrappers (though this time the lovers are educated women). The establishment (represented here by the bank) ignores them as worthless. 

Newcomer writer Reid Carolin fills his dialogue with clever asides and an authenticity to life on the boards.  Several of the scenes run on too long and it’s a shame that Soderbergh didn’t cut 20 minutes so that the middle didn’t slog down.  Oddly, Carolin has written a shockingly heterosexual strip club where not only are all the strippers straight but in this universe, gays don’t even exist.

Does this make Magic Mike a hetero-sexual film?  God no.  Soderbergh changes all the rules with his camerawork.  The men on stage may gyrate for the women in the audience, but they seem to be playing to each other.  Watch recently out actor Matthew Bomer (TV’s White Collar) and Pettyfer in a tightly framed dance routine. They look like they’re about to devour each other.  Soderbergh’s mis-en-scene also keeps Pettyfer and Tatum close together, so inseparable, that people who don’t know English may assume the two are lovers.

McConaughey’s lustful flamboyance (not femininity but overt sexuality) keys the audience to a gay sensibility not reflected in the script.  Our heroine (Horn) has a husky masculine voice and unisexual body. Then there’s Tatum in Marilyn Monroe drag jumping on Pettyfer on the couch to awake him.  It doesn’t take much decoding to make this a gay film.

The cast is having a rousing time.  As the fellow strippers, Bomer, Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Adam Rodriguez (CSI Miami) and Kevin Nash give it their all (and sometimes a bit more).  All are sexually driven dancers who build believable characters even though the script doesn’t focus on them often.  McConaughey transforms his good-ole boy persona into something malevolent, like a python about to eat everyone in his path. Horn is edgy as the girl next-door, moral, kind and worth aspiring to love.  Pettyfer, who never displayed much talent in the past, captures the boyish charm that makes him a compelling tragic hero, one whose hubris will lead to his doom.

The film belongs to Channing Tatum and he is blossoming from film to film into a star.  The confusion and loneliness behind the cocky façade can be seen in his eyes, particularly when he sees himself through others’ eyes.  He may be magic on the stage, however in real life, Tatum’s Mike has lost his glitter. But he wants his groove back.  Grade: B

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