Soderbergh’s penchant for milieu studies has often served him well, QED Traffic, Erin Brockovich, not to mention those halcyon early days in which low budget constraints and a minimalist setting brought out the best of Andie MacDowell’s and James Spader’s acting skills in Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Those days, it seems, are past. Soderbergh’s exploration of the testosterone driven world of male stripping in Magic Mike is nothing if not elaborately paced. Enticingly choreographed stripping scenes regularly alternate with episodes of the mellow, regular life, set up to counterpoint the pressure of performance. It’s this deliberation, however, this overtly perfected attempt at balance, as well the over-use of Soderbergh’s filter-based cinematography that strips the movie of that spark to which the title enticingly alludes.
Channing Tatum, who starred in Soderbergh’s last movie Haywire is, so far, an actor of limited range. As such, he occupies quite adequately his role as Mike, a popular and talented stripper earning money for a down payment for his dream business venture (designing bespoke furniture). Along comes a new kid on the block, Adam (Alex Pettyfer). He’s a bit wet (behind the ears), and Mike promises his hot but serious sister that he’ll take care of him in the rough, rude world of genital grabbing sophomores. As the mastermind behind the whole shebang, a taut and slightly demonic Matthew McConaughey keeps the show going as stripper boss with ambitions to really hit the big time. Various parts of this ensemble are all present and accounted for… no single actor can be properly faulted, the choreography of gleaming physiques reflects just the right amount of cold and shiny professionalism – so why does the whole thing feel like a male cheerleading movie? It’s probably the plot, which allows just that iota of sentimentality to intrude upon and mar what was clearly intended but only periodically achieves a realistic look at a ball-breaking line of work.
Magic Mike | Directed by Steven Soderbergh (USA 2012), with Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey. Starts August 16