MORE than ten years ago, before he started making studly movies like The Eagle and Dear John, or unexpectedly revealed his self-awareness and good humour in the comedy 21 Jump Street, Channing Tatum was a stripper.
Now, in collaboration with Steven Soderbergh, he puts his experiences to good use in the blithe dramedy Magic Mike, a sort of Saturday Night Fever in assless leather chaps.
It also confirms that Tatum is the commodity Hollywood has been desperate to find; a young, hot male star. Admittedly, he’s not much of an actor, but he has a likeability that makes you root for him when he struggles to get through the more dramatic scenes and for a man built like an oak wardrobe, he proves a surprisingly lithe exotic dancer.
With Magic Mike, you get the Three Ages of Stripper Man. Besides Mike, who is at the peak of his powers, there is Mike’s protégé, 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) who nervously debuts his six-pack with Like A Virgin on the soundtrack. And the film’s strongest hint that if you stay in the game too long you run out of options is personified by Matthew McConaughey. There’s more than a hint of self-parody in his bongo-bashing MC, but it’s also another high-voltage performance that adds nicely to the momentum generated by Lincoln Lawyer and his riveting performance in Killer Joe. If this stops him making romcoms with Sarah Jessica Parker, then everyone wins.
Unlike the Full Monty, Magic Mike contains rippling pecs and campy choreography that you might actually pay to watch. The routines are unsubtle, including a Fourth of July number with McConaughey as Uncle Sam leading a small army in tearaway fatigues, but they are performed with demented exuberance. An easy-going movie in search of a good time, this is clearly ladies’ night at the movies, even if you don’t get to see the Tatum pole.
Not that director Soderbergh spends too much time underscoring the difference between men and women at strip clubs, presuming that we’re savvy enough to appreciate that when women start taking off their clothes to music, a male clientele don’t dig their mates in the ribs and scream with laughter. Instead, he fills the screen with genially tacky detail: backstage pre-performance, we see the guys mend their g-strings, dose up on booze, apply pancake, pump their biceps – and in the corner of the screen, pump up other parts too with a small marital aid.
Soderbergh remains one of the most unpredictable talents in modern movies, one minute making crowd-pleasers like Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich or Out Of Sight, the next delivering snoozers like Haywire or The Good German. Who would have guessed a movie about male strippers would be among the best of his career?
You can almost sense his reluctance to stop waving dollar bills and start wagging fingers when someone goes off the rails, and dreams take a knock. Fortunately, the script by first-time screenwriter Reid Carolin (Tatum’s producing partner) doesn’t want us to brood too long over this, partly because there’s no shortage of dark stories about the adult entertainment industry, but also because the cautionary lesson that if you sell yourself, you risk losing yourself, is about as deep as a bowl of beer nuts. «
On general release from Wednesday
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