“You don’t need to talk,” psychologist Joanna (Olivia Munn) says to Channing Tatum’s character, Mike. “Just look pretty.”
Right, “look pretty”: the premise of Steven Soderbergh’s 110-minute film, “Magic Mike” — a film whose main attraction includes objectifying athletic, naked, flexible and muscular men with tantalizing butts and abs, grinding under the dirty limelight of dollar bills.
There’s a loose plot to this strip show — one which involves Mike, a six-year veteran stripper for Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), Xquisite strip club’s M.C. and owner. As Mike bypasses the bouncers of the Tampa nightclubs on one of his nightly gigs, he brings Adam (Alex Pettyfer) — a 19-year-old Ashton Kutcher look-alike begging to join the ranks of the 21-and-plus partying crowd. Adam trades his body for admission, finding his strip tease the last act of an all-male strip show. By the end of the night, Adam inherits a new nickname (“The Kid”) and a permanent place on Dallas’ roster.
Tatum exudes confidence as the film’s titular character, but perhaps that’s to be expected. This isn’t the first time Tatum’s a stripper. Before he made it big as a dancer/actor on Anne Fletcher’s “Step Up,” Tatum was an 18-year-0ld stripper in Tampa. “It was the atmosphere and energy of it I wanted to capture,” Tatum said, “and that feeling of being at a time in your life when you’re trying things out, and up for anything.”
Soderbergh creates that atmosphere with coma-inducing images of seductive naked men. As you watch with half-lidded eyes, you realize that these men are up for anything — from shaving their legs, sporting red-white-and-blue thongs and cross-dressing (in one scene, Tatum prances around in a white Marilyn Monroe dress and a blond wig) to sleazing themselves for money (a frisky female extra reportedly ripped off McConaughey’s G-string during the shoot).
But the gaudiness mask an act: “I’m not what I do,” Magic Mike, who describes himself as an entrepreneur, tries to explain. Mike’s an honest man pursuing the American dream: he wants to open his own custom-design furniture business — but the capitalism gods won’t allow someone with his laughable credit score to take out a business loan. And as Adam succumbs to the girls/drugs/sex lifestyle of the stripper underworld, Mike finds himself as Richard O’Brien’s Dr. Frank N. Furter — the creator of Rocky, a sculpted hedonistic adonis clad in only a pair of snug gold briefs.
“Magic Mike” is what you paid for: pelvic thrusts from scantly-clad eye candy, dancing in an array of uniforms (including police officers, sailors and soldiers) and personas (ranging from Uncle Sam, G.I. Joe to Tarzan and a real-life Ken doll). “You’re not just stripping. You are fulfilling every woman’s wildest fantasies,” Dallas explains. “You are the husband that they never had. You are that dreamboat guy that never came along. You are the one-night stand: that free fling of a fuck that they get to have tonight, with you on stage, and still go home to their hubby and not get in trouble because you, baby, you made it legal.”
To paraphrase: you’re “Rocky Horror Picture Show’s” Janet, singing “touch-a, touch-a, touch-a, touch me/ I want to be dirty…” But your silhouette doesn’t get to make love to Rocky’s behind a thinly veiled screen. Even being a “Magic Mike virgin” won’t promise you lap dances with either Tatum, Pettyfer or McConaughey on your lap. As Dallas says, “The law says you cannot touch.” And so far, reaching through the silver screen is only science fiction.
“Magic Mike’s” visually enjoyable and it doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to understand why. With men holding umbrellas and sparklers in rather suggestive places, it’s the Freudian promise of sex that keeps you watching and returning through the time warp — long after midnight.
“Magic Mike” was directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Reid Carolyn.