Saturday 14 July 2012

Magic Mike (2012) - Steven Soderbergh

As a stripper in his younger days and producer of this film, Channing Tatum's own experiences have somewhat informed the plot of this film.  Yet Magic Mike is far from the gritty slice of realism it aspires to be.

The film draws us into the glitzy world of male stripping in sunny Florida.  Tatum's Mike is our protagonist, the lead star who dreams of becoming (of all things) a bespoke furniture maker.  The plot hinges on Alex Pettyfer's Adam, an impressionable nineteen year old seduced by the money, fame and (most importantly) women that the industry provides.  Mike teaches him his methods, but is racked with guilt for inadvertently steering Alex into drug addiction.

The problem is, drugs aside, the stripping lifestyle is far from the seedy underworld you might expect.  Instead, it's a glamorous, colourful world that lacks danger - except from some rowdy frat boys.  In the midst of economic recession, the notion of giving up fortune and sex to become a carpenter is ridiculous.  The life of a stripper may be a cheap facade, but is it really worth giving up in favour of Alex's straight-laced, boring sister Brooke (Cody Horn)?

Many of Soderbergh's shots cut off the faces of his actors.  This is supposed to offer detachment, to focus on their masculine physique and force the audience's gaze to objectify these men.  Instead, the focus becomes the choreography - Tatum's dance skills especially.  It's not just the thongs and their contents that impress.  Rather than stripping being viewed as a degrading career choice, it's more degrading to the 50 Shades loving, animalistic and eager hoards of drooling women, interested only in seeing flesh rather than the men behind the latex.  Importantly, nudity is implied rather than actually shown, with Mike's magic wand kept out of sight (I suspect, much to the dismay of many cinema goers) and characterisation thrust to the forefront.

The characters, though, are defined more by their stage names than any actual humanity.  With its hilariously crude script and camp performances, this is neither a hard-hitting drama nor a piece of seductive eroticism.  Magic Mike is less Full Monty social message and more Showgirls cheap thrill - minus the sex.