"Don't talk, just be beautiful", asks psychology graduate student Joanna (Olivia Munn) from the slightly hungover Mike (Channing Tatum), star male stripper at Florida club Xquisite, signalling loud and clear the disconnect between image and identity hyphenate director Steven Soderbergh exploits in his latest dramedy. Magic Mike is closer to one of the "works for hire" Mr. Soderbergh accepts regularly to bankroll his more offbeat, personal projects - in this case, the film was developed by its star and co-producer, Mr. Tatum, and written by his producing partner, Reid Carolin, inspired by the actor's own experiences as a male stripper.

     But it is still a Soderbergh picture through and through, working as a companion piece to his earlier The Girlfriend Experience. In that low-budget film, he explored sex as a commodity and pleasure as business through the parallel lives of an NYC call girl and her personal trainer boyfriend. Here, he looks at it from the male side, showing Mike as a sweet, well-meaning man that is a mere cog in a system beyond him. In Mr. Tatum's endearing portrayal, Mike is a man stripping merely as a means to an end until he can get his furniture business off the ground, who may lack the killer instinct that would make him a grade-A hustler such as his boss at the club, the shameless Dallas (a spot-on Matthew McConaughey). That lack of killer instinct and his underlying good nature conspire to keep him falling just short of his ambitions and talents, leading the film into a classic "changing of the guard" melodrama, only set in the male strip-tease world, as Mike welcomes layabout Adam (Alex Pettyfer) into the strip community and watches him take off almost instantly.

     The story gains an extra layer through Mr. Soderbergh's dispassionate observation of the social mechanisms that keep Mike on his toes throughout, as smart and cruel as those he set in The Girlfriend Experience, only refracted through the framework of melodrama. However, there is a general sense that the director, again doing triple-duty as cinematographer and editor, isn't stretching by any sense beyond his comfort zone, and his usual knack for performances hits a brick wall in the indifferent performance of Cody Horn as Adam's sister Brooke, a nurse who becomes the official romantic interest in the film.

     For all that, Magic Mike confirms Mr. Soderbergh as one of the smartest directors working nowadays within American filmmaking, able to craft an obvious crowd-pleaser such as this while planting a little nugget in the background for the viewer to mull over afterwards.

Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Riley Keough, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias; Matthew McConaughey.

Director, cinematographer (colour, processing by Foto-kem, widescreen; under the alias Peter Andrews), editor (under the alias Mary Ann Bernard), Steven Soderbergh; screenplay, Reid Carolin; designer, Howard Cummings; costumes, Christopher Peterson; choreography, Alison Faulk; producers, Nick Wechsler, Gregory Jacobs, Mr. Tatum, Mr. Carolin (Nick Wechsler Productions, Iron Horse Entertainment, Extension 765), USA, 2012, 109 minutes.

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon screening room, Lisbon, July 3rd 2012. 


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