“MAGIC MIKE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on June 29)
110 minutes | MPAA rating: R
For its first 40 minutes – or until it realizes it hasn’t anything to say – “Magic Mike” offers an amusing inversion of movie sex roles.
In this case the usual big-bazoomed bimbos have been replaced by prodigiously packaged dudes.
The film, you see, is a sort of distaff “Show Girls” set in the world of male strippers. It makes no bones about offering female moviegoers the same sexual voyeurism men have enjoyed since forever. Just consider how many scenes in recent movies and TV series have been set, quite arbitrarily, in titty bars.
Turnabout is fair play.
But one could wish that the unpredictable Steven Soderbergh – who can go from an arty effort like “Che” to the strictly-for-the-money “Ocean’s 11” franchise without breaking a sweat – had something of substance to offer once the thrill of those taunt pecs and rippling abs wears off.
The title character (played by Channing Tatum, whose own experiences as a Chippendale’s-type dancer inspired the movie) is a cocky, funny, outrageously hunky 30-year-old who works construction during the day and at night struts his stuff on the stage of Xquisite, a Tampa nightclub.
Mike loves the attention and the money. But as he’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, what he really wants is to establish himself as a maker of custom furniture.
Early in the film Mike takes under his chiseled bicep a new kid, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who initially is hired to do odd jobs around the club but, in classic show-biz fashion, is called on to take to the stage when one of the regulars is incapacitated by a drug overdose.
Adam is painfully nervous and his dancing laughably clumsy, but the screaming women in the audience don’t seem to care. And in fact the club’s owner and emcee, the preening Dallas (a shirtless Matthew McConaughey in cowboy hat and assless leather chaps) thinks this new kid might just have what it takes.
Early on there’s lots of funny stuff in “Magic Mike” thanks to the subversive approach taken by Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin.
The male dancers are just as vain and bubble-headed as their female counterparts. Their backstage hangout reeks of homoeroticism – it’s unavoidable when you’ve got a half-dozen guys in thongs oiling up and lifting weights. (One of the film’s best throwaway sight gags finds Adam freaked out by the casual use of a penis-enhancing suction contraption.)
As Dallas, McConaughey has a truly hilarious scene in which he uses a mirrored wall to teach Adam a dry-humping dance routine accompanied by a running commentary: “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t.”
But once that’s all out of the way, “Magic Mike” hasn’t much to offer.
Our title character finds himself drawn to Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), who might be cute if she wasn’t always scowling. Brooke hasn’t much respect for her brother’s newfound calling and she can see right through Mike’s cocky charm and grand ambitions. She knows this is a guy going nowhere.
Later the screenplay arbitrarily has Adam — who inexplicably vanishes from the middle of the movie — dealing ecstasy and running afoul of some heavy dealers. Comes out of nowhere.
Ultimately some of the best entertainment in “Magic Mike” comes from the Xquisite floor show. The musical numbers have been cleverly staged, shot and edited, and Tatum is an extraordinarly good dancer, displaying first-rate acrobatic hip-hop moves.
But the film feels underpopulated. Aside from Horn and Tatum, most of the cast members never really go beyond skin deep. Even Tatum’s Mike seems pretty shallow. And Petyfor’s Adam is remarkably vacant.
Soderbergh doesn’t help matters by allowing his leads to engage in long improvised dialogue. It may help “Magic Mike” seem more lived in, but it leaves the film feeling unfocused, rambling and overlong.
| Robert W. Butler