'Magic Mike': A backstage look at male strippers
Waxed and thonged, music blasting, they move into the spotlight, grinding, gyrating, bending, flexing, to the gleeful wails of the crowd.
Strippers, exotic dancers, determined to put on a show, to titillate, arouse.
Just a bunch of guys doing their job.
In Magic Mike, an odd and entertaining mix of backstage melodrama, indie verite, and Showgirls kitsch, the usual gender stereotypes are upturned. It's the rare movie (or TV cop show) these days that doesn't have a strip club scene, with women in G-strings snaking around poles, angling toward the guys waving $20 bills.
Channing Tatum, who has the title role in Magic Mike, and Steven Soderbergh, the director, have flipped the equation. Here it's the men as lust objects, serving up the erotic fantasies (firemen? construction workers? GIs? cops?), and the bachelorettes, shopgirls, and housewives who are downing the booze, whooping and hollering, eager to touch the merchandise and shower them with dollars.
But male strippers are people, too, with hopes and dreams, troubles and woe. And so Tatum - who did this gig for real when he was a younger lad - plays Mike, one of the star attractions of Tampa's Club Xquisite, as a hardworking Joe who does construction and builds custom furniture when he's not break dancing in the buff to a room full of screaming females. Sure, he likes to party - and have three-ways with his gal pal Joanna (Olivia Munn) and whoever they pick up that night - but he's a serious dude. And when he starts to mentor young Adam (Alex Pettyfer), also known as the Kid, he promises the Kid's sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), that he'll keep him out of trouble.
But with all the Ecstasy and alcohol, girls and money floating around, that's a hard promise to keep. And Mike doesn't want to let Brooke down. He likes her. In fact, he's starting to think about her a whole bunch, even if she doesn't think much of what he does for a living.
"Am I Magic Mike right now, talking to you?" he says, trying to make the case that he's more than mere beefcake. "I'm not my lifestyle."
And it's lines like that - I'm not my lifestyle - that help make Magic Mike such a weirdly guilty pleasure. Soderbergh, who has been on a breakneck run - Contagion and Haywire last year, The Bitter Pill and Behind the Candelabra next - favors a lo-fi, improv-y aesthetic that seems at odds with the exaggerated flash and extravagance of the subject at hand. And so he'll have Matthew McConaughey, who plays Dallas, Xquisite's owner and impresario, strut onto the stage in his leather chaps, teasin' and grinnin' like some X-rated carnival barker. And then he'll cut to Tatum and Horn, in the faded light of her nondescript apartment, talking about what they like to eat for breakfast.
For the record, Tatum, Pettyfer, and the guys playing Tarzan, Tito, and Big Dick Richie throw themselves into the dance numbers with ardor and agility - and throw off their clothes.
Hear the roar.