Magic Mike (Warner Bros. Pictures, R)

film magic-mike-75Yes, this film features someone who looks like Ron Perlman as a stripper.

 

film magic-mike_500 

When I saw Erin Brockovich in the theater on opening night back in 2000, I got the impression that I was the only person there in the full house who wanted to see the new Steven Soderbergh movie, not the new Julia Roberts movie. The same feeling crept up on me at a promotional screening of Soderbergh’s new film Magic Mike, in which Channing Tatum plays a male stripper. It was amusing to see Magic Mike with a pretty full, mostly female crowd, though; I haven’t heard so much oohing and whistling in a movie theater in quite some time.

To start, Magic Mike plays the Eyes Wide Shut game of not being coy about what its audience came for; inside of the first two or three minutes of the film, you see both Tatum and Olivia Munn naked—it happens so fast, it’s sort of hard for your brain to process it. That is to say, the film starts off with a bang (no pun intended), but only sometimes maintains that pace through the rest. It’s good and fun when it does, but there are definite periods of lag where you have the chance to stand back and notice that the story Magic Mike tells is very, very generic; the only thing unusual about the film is its setting: that being the world of male strippers.

Tatum plays the titular Mike, the biggest draw at an all-male strip club that seems to exclusively have attractive young girls as patrons. Mike has his fingers in a lot of pies, and early in the film, he meets 19-year old Adam (’tween star Alex Pettyfer of I Am Number Four and Beastly) at a construction site where they’re both working. Mike unintentionally takes Alex under his wing, and gets him a job doing props at the strip club at night. But when one of the strippers, Tarzan (Kevin Nash, looking like a slightly younger Ron Perlman—yes, this film features someone who looks like Ron Perlman as a stripper), is found incapacitated right before he’s supposed to perform, Mike pushes Adam out on stage and, well, you know what happens from there.

Really, the only thing impeding full enjoyment of Magic Mike is its length. It would have been a really fun 85-minute movie, but it often drags at 110 minutes. Still, there are some very strong scenes, not all of which are in the strip club. (One of the best has Mike trying to take out a loan from a bank to start a furniture business.) Between this and 21 Jump Street, Tatum has recently been proving that he’s actually a surprisingly decent, funny actor, and he’s well supported by a recently-on Matthew McConaughey, who turns in his second good performance of 2012 here (the first being Bernie), which is perhaps only his third good performance ever (the first being 1993’s Dazed & Confused, his debut—he parlays a lot of his “All right all right all right” schtick from that movie onto his character in Mike). Also adding to the watchability of the film is the sometimes humorous way it was shot, which was done by Soderbergh under his usual director-of-photography pseudonym Peter Andrews. He finds a couple of different creative ways to sneak a penis into the frame, and in some scenes, you wonder just how close he had to be to, say, McConaughey’s ass to get the shot that he did.

For the past couple of decades, movies whose main draw is strippers and/or nudity tend to not do great in the box office, but then find their audience on home video. That said, movies whose main draw is male strippers and/or male nudity are extremely rare; I’m interested in seeing how this plays out. It was made on a low budget so the stakes are low, but if the film is lucky, it could potentially break into the Sex & the City crowd and make a decent chunk of money. It’s a pretty good film, so I wouldn’t mind seeing that scenario take place. | Pete Timmermann

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