Channing Tatum may be a star on the rise, but in Magic Mike he plumbs the depths of his history to get into the eponymous lead character, a male stripper in Tampa, Florida. Tatum has talked about his desire to highlight some of his experiences as a 19-year-old stripper, and when the opportunity to star in a film on the subject he got involved as a producer. Originally planned for Nicolas Refn, it was Steven Soderbergh who showed the most interest in the project and in fact, Magic Mike was co-financed by him and Tatum. Magic Mike initially follows college dropout Adam (Alex Pettyfer) who meets ‘Magic’ Mike (Tatum) on a construction yard. Down on his luck and in need of some cash, Mike introduces Adam to the world of male stripping at Xquisite club. Adam, rechristened ‘The Kid’ lives with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn), whom Mike begins to have feelings for, complicated further by his on-and-off relationship with Psychology student Joanna (Olivia Munn). Meanwhile stripper troupe leader Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) has plans to move the act to Miami and cut in Magic Mike on the action.
Soderbergh has always had a knack of getting the best performances out of his actors and Magic Mike is no exception. Initial protagonist Pettyfer, who has been terrible in films like I Am Number 4 and In Time, gives his best performance to date, as the selfish teenager who is just looking for a good time regardless of consequences. While McConaughey turns in sizzling, overtly sexual turn as the loose cannon Dallas. As he’s stepped away from the mindless romantic comedies, he has really shown what a charismatic performer he really is, and in the same vein as Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages, he even gets his own moment in the spotlight, performing his own routine in Magic Mike‘s final act.
But the real star of Magic Mike, is Channing Tatum. It would be so easy to dismiss his performance as showy and glorified female eye candy, yet it is in the more tender scenes that he really excels. His exchanges with the two women in his life are realistic and heartfelt and continue to show his ever-expanding range. Plus on top of that, his actual dancing is incredibly choreographed and expertly performed. But this is the dichotomy that Magic Mike has running through its heart. The balance of glitz and glamour against the realistic, almost melancholy nature of life.
Soderbergh produces Magic Mike‘s dance numbers within an inch of their lives. Every scene on stage is loud, bright, sparkling and set to a pumping baseline with professional lighting. This sits perfectly at odds with the scenes during the daytime, which have no soundtrack, take place in a slightly muted, pastel colour palette and involve the characters actually talking.
It’s nice that not every conversation is a piece of exposition to move the plot forward, but rather building toward the overall message of the film. Soderbergh gives the characters room to breath, adds layers of depth and include some truly funny and very sweet moments. Coinciding with the explosion in popularity of 50 Shades of Grey and the release of The Dark Knight Rises, it would be easy to consider Magic Mike a simple piece of counter-programming. Something for the women. But it’s a clever reversal of gender stereotypes with Magic Mike being the character with the ‘pie in the sky’ dream, constantly being mistreated by his lover. It’s expertly shot, funny and endearing and one of the biggest surprises of 2012.