Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The daily grind

Steven Soderbergh and a cast of chiselled studs explore the ups and downs of male stripping

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After watching Tom Cruise clench his butt cheeks for the better part of two hours in Rock of Ages, I wasn't craving more summer man-candy.

After all, even the most impressive crotch shot gets old fast -- which is why Steven Soderbergh gets points for getting in and out fast with Magic Mike.

A surprisingly dramatic look at the undeniably comic world of male stripping, Magic Mike was loosely based on lead star Channing Tatum's former life as an exotic dancer, and it definitely has all the musky details one might expect from an eyewitness account of debauchery.

From the dressing room images of men greasing up and sewing gold thongs, to the drugs, drinking and committed partying that goes along with being young, gorgeous and horny, Soderbergh creates a believable milieu for our central character Mike (Tatum).

A regular guy who works construction by day, but shakes his booty in the buff by night, Mike is pretty much living the dream -- and he knows it.

Able to waltz right into any nightclub without a hitch, Mike is the king of Tampa with an iPhone full of ladies' numbers. Any guy would want to be like him, so when an out-of-work 19-year-old befriends Mike and explains his lack of money, Mike does the kind, older brother pimp-thing and turns him into a crotch-stroking cowboy.

The new recruit, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), is a little inhibited at first, but with a little booze and a handful of pills, he rises to the occasion and finds a second home swinging his man stuff on stage.

In movies about women who make similar life choices, there's always a hint of doom and gloom to the moral descent that goes back to the Victorian era, and the notion of the fallen woman.

Once a vessel of feminine purity shakes her rack for cash, she's tainted for life. Yet, guys can pump and thrust for female thrills without sacrificing an inch of macho integrity.

Soderbergh recognizes this double-standard as it exists in popular culture and he shows us just how much fun Adam and Mike can have while being somewhat amoral. The two men drink, dance and have regular encounters with multiple partners.

There are no moral consequences to their actions, no white wedding dress that must be burned. Thanks to Soderbergh's sharp taste in visuals, we're given an all-access pass to the VIP party room -- and it's a lot of fun.

The only hint of judgment comes from Adam's sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), a medical clerk who looks at her tragically handsome brother and sees nothing but wasted potential.

Brooke, who looks a little like a younger version of Elisabeth Shue, is going out with a pencil-necked goofball and rebuffs Mike's gentle, and altogether charming, advances.

We can see the outlines of the romance before they do, and by the time Soderbergh lets the pieces, and the bodies, fall into place, we've already managed to avoid the major moments of déj vu.

One of the get-out-of-genre-free cards is the result of the gender switch.

It's one thing to watch a woman stumble into a restaurant and see her boyfriend there with another woman -- who is then introduced as his fiancée -- but watching a man realize he's just been used for his body is something else entirely.

Tatum wraps his chiselled appendages around every handcrafted Soderbergh moment with an equal amount of lightness and intensity, perfectly embodying the conflicted mental state of our title character.

Mike always believed in the magic of his own creation, and he wants to believe that you can party like an Italian cruise ship captain without having to walk the plank. Yet, sooner or later, reality slaps him in the face -- and like all male strippers, he's forced to take a long, long, long look at the man he's become.

If the movie had been any more sincere, it would have been Midnight Cowboy.

Soderbergh certainly has the talent to go there, but as the man who made Ocean's Eleven in addition to Traffic, he's able to balance earnest emotion with the endless thirst for escapism.

This gift is particularly well-suited to Magic Mike, because that's where this movie lives -- in the demi-monde of human drama and absolute farce, where Matthew McConaughey plays a latex-clad cowboy and Joe Manganiello's character is forced to pull out a pre-show pump.

The director of Sex Lies and Videotape is so comfortable with the motley tone, he's able to squeeze every drop from his ensemble of studs, with Tatum proving once and for all he can do just about anything -- including an X-rated version of the worm.

Because the movie has so much youthful energy and manages to glide past every rite of passage without getting caught in the trap of been-there, seen-that, Magic Mike scores in ways we might expect -- as well as the ones we don't.

-- Postmedia News

Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of Magic Mike:

The few moments wherein Magic Mike calls American institutions into question are undercut and overshadowed by the film's dated insistence on the dream of legitimacy.

-- Karina Longworth, Village Voice

(Tatum is) just mesmerizing: confident, creative, acrobatic and, above all, seductive. 'Cause that's the whole point.

-- Christy Lemire, The Associated Press

Arguably the raunchiest, funniest and most enjoyably non-judgmental American movie about selling sex since Boogie Nights, its obvious if considerably darker precursor.

-- David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Tatum, Soderbergh and team appreciate the real reason audiences showed up, and the film provides just enough character and plot to validate the plentiful pecs and abundant buns that serve as its main attraction.

-- Peter Debruge, Variety

Even when Magic Mike is skimpier than a G-string it soars on daring, as if Soderbergh asked himself who could possibly make a good movie from such offbeat material, answered "I can," and did.

-- Steve Persall, Tampa Bay Times

Magic Mike has much in common with previous Soderbergh efforts in that it glides along at a terrifically entertaining pace.

-- Eric Kohn, indieWIRE

McConaughey goes for broke, rolling and writhing on the stage while women grab at him and throw cash. I would've handed over my credit card.

-- Connie Ogle, Miami Herald

Shoulda been big fun, but a deadly combination of no script and a strange lack of sexiness renders this male-stripper tale an aimless, although commercially calculated, bore.

-- David Noh, Film Journal International

Come for the stripping, stay for the high-caliber filmmaking.

-- Matt Patches, Hollywood.com

If Magic Mike doesn't quite attain the hedonistic stature of twin cautionary tales Boogie Nights and the campy Showgirls, it can't be faulted for wanting to satisfy on a deeper level.

-- Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

Movie review

Magic Mike

Starring Channing Tatun, Alex Pettyfer and Olivia Munn

St. Vital, Grant Park, Polo Park, Towne

14A

111 minutes

Three and a half stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2012 D1

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