Saturday, June 30, 2012

Magic Mike

Some movies must be seen in first run, at a theater full of screaming women (or men, as the case may be). Such is the case with Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike,” which would be much drearier to watch alone at home.

Channing Tatum stars as Mike, a stripper at a Tampa all-male revue who dreams of starting his own custom-furniture business. On a day job installing roof tiles, he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a na├»ve 19-year-old in need of an older-brother type. There’s an adorable scene in which, out with two girls, Mike and Adam jump fully clothed from a mid-height railing into the bay; coming up for air, Adam tells Mike, “I think we should be best friends.”

Soon enough, Mike brings Adam to the strip club where, to no one’s surprise, circumstances conspire to force him reluctantly (but successfully) onto the stage. The first half of the movie consists largely of the ecdysiasts’ routines and Mike’s and Adam’s freewheeling sexual encounters. A possible love interest for Mike is Adam’s protective sister, Brooke (Cody Horn, borrowing Gina Carano’s lippy sneer from “Haywire”), whom Mike assures he won’t let anything bad happen to Adam.

This first hour is a lot of fun, especially, as I say, with a house full of ladies whistling, clapping, ogling and giggling -- and a friend occasionally leaning into your ear and whispering “Best. Movie. Ever.” But it’s as if Soderbergh felt the movie would be too slight without a capital-P Plot, so he introduces a trite, go-nowhere arc involving Adam’s increasing drug use and abortive would-be sideline selling Ecstasy. This material does nothing but kill the movie’s buzz.

Tatum is as wooden as ever, even in scenes with Horn that call for him to trip haltingly over his words. (Mark Duplass gives a master class in such a scene in “Your Sister’s Sister,” when Emily Blunt arrives unexpectedly the morning after he and Rosemarie Dewitt couple: “You said you weren’t – when did you get – hi! – wait, what are you doing here?”) But Tatum’s effortful performance somehow almost augments his sex-on-a-stick appeal. And Matthew McConaughey, as the big-dreaming, tanaholic club owner Dallas, shows a game playfulness in what is essentially a rehash of Tom Cruise’s T.J. Mackey act from “Magnolia” (“Let me tell you something, Denise….Denise, the piece…”)

Is “Magic Mike” really a three-star movie? Objectively, probably not. But the women and gay men in the audience (and one or two husbands earning several months’ worth of brownie points) know exactly what they’re there for, and the constantly shape-shifting Soderbergh delivers, thong, codpiece and all.

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