I had to feel bad for the lone man in the theatre. There he sat surrounded by women hooting, hollering, cheering and whistling as Channing Tatum et al took it all off on screen. Watching Magic Mike at the theatre last weekend was a lot like going to an all male revue. The female audience members were there to watch the cast strip down and they let their intentions be known. They were raucous and loud, yelling “Damn!” and “Take it off” aloud each time the guys took the stage for their next number. It was very funny, but not so much for the poor man sitting to my left who, during the one time I willed myself to look over at him, sat there with his shoulders slumped and his head resting on his hand looking bored stiff and none too pleased. I sure hope he was getting an even trade for seeing the film. Maybe his female companion had agreed to go and see Expendables 2 with him?
Many of the women I know are eager and hot to see this movie. To them I’d say, see the movie because the solo and group routines will put a smile on your face. They’re energetic, flashy and fun and they embrace every stripper stereotype there’s ever been – soldiers, cops, firemen, even Tarzan. For me, the most impressive showman was Channing Tatum (Mike), and not just for the reasons you might think. He stole the show in his breakout role in Step Up because of his killer dance moves and he steals the show again in Magic Mike for the exact same reason. His solo routines are something to behold because, boy, can the man dance! And Soderbergh’s documentary-style direction is pretty crafty here, getting us up close and personal to the stars and the action and taking us backstage to look on as the guys chill out, pump weights (and, um, a certain body part) and prep for the show. He knows what the audience wants, but he teases them with it little by little.
The women who packed the show I attended were definitely hot and bothered during the strip-club numbers, but grew silent when the stripping stopped and the story kicked in. The film isn’t simply a hilarious romp; at least, it tries to be much more. I expected the film to be edgier, but when the action moved outside the club, the plot grew clunky, aimless and uninteresting at times. The film tried to tell a dark parable about the dangers of greed and drug use, but it wasn’t as involving and interesting as it should have been. The love story, however, was among the film’s most captivating parts for me, aided entirely by the strong performances of Cody Horn and Channing Tatum whose charm and slow-heating romance burned up the screen.
Another highlight was, believe it or not, Matthew McConaughey who is perfectly cast as Dallas, the oily, sleazy strip club owner. McConaughey’s self-parodying role as boss to the strippers he calls the “cock-rocking kings of Tampa” steals the show. He gives the film its randy edge and some of the most hilarious scenes are of McConaughey schooling a young rookie in the art of stripping. McConaughey’s character is not just present as a source of hilarity, but he is also made to represent the kind of person a middle-aged man can become when he’s worked in the strip club scene all his life. He can become an egomaniacal nut who deifies himself and whose entire life seems to exist solely within the confines of the club. The essence of it all - “Women, money and a good time” – Mike explains at one point, are powerful seductions that keep certain men like Dallas seduced forever. For other men, like Mike, the time comes when there’s a longing for something more and the film shows both sides through some great acting, fresh humour and shrewd direction by Soderbergh.