To all the people of the world who are currently in mid-sip of their 14th Flirtini in preparation for the biggest group movie outing since Sex and the City, a message: Channing Tatum is not just a sizzling hunk of man meat. Neither is Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Alex Pettyfer or Matt Bomer. They're real men, with real brains in their heads, who have real lives. Sure, their real lives involve shaving their legs and buying an abundance of tear-away pants, but still. They have dreams. And in this story that is supposedly inspired by Channing Tatum's real life as an exotic dancer pre-superstardom, you get to see behind the gauzy curtain. It's less oily and naked than you think.
I went in expecting a completely different film from what I got. I was gunning for Showgirls only as Show Boys, with mentions of dog food and obsessive potato-chip eating. Instead director Steven Soderbergh did something normal and classy, which are two words I associate with his other films and did not want to describe this film. The Magic Mike TV commercials made me jump out of my seat, hoot and holler, and then fan myself from the exertion. The movie just teased me with some stripping scenes, and then made me listen to all the hot guys talking. And now I have to review the movie that actually happened, not just the one I wanted in my head. As a result, this review will be full of sarcasm and pouting.
Mike (Tatum) is an entrepreneur who is either busy writing business plans or doing pops and locks and lifting girls out of their chairs onto his face. He owns a few cash-only businesses and aspires to be something more than a hustler. He uses words like "equity" and "interest" and wears (tear-away?) suits when he visits banks. Dallas (McConaughey) is his boss that runs the exotic dancing nightclub that Mike is using his ambition and talent to expand. He knows it's important to move from small-town Tampa to big-time Miami and is always asking for more "equity." He meets a down-on-his-luck kid (Pettyfer) and brings him into the world of all-male revue, but you can only be on top of the stripping world for so long. Apparently sometimes the people who participate in entertainment aren't entirely honest or sober or nice.
Soderbergh is a great filmmaker. He always stays fresh and avoids pigeonholing himself, going from action to historical thriller to comedy to political drama. When he lets actors talk, it feels natural and not staged. But this time, when I realized with dread that he was going to let male strippers talk instead of remove their chaps, it doesn't turn out particularly controversial or groundbreaking, which is the only reason to sacrifice brawn for brain. I admire the fact that Mike yearns for companionship and coyly tries to get Joanna (Olivia Munn) to become something other than a friend with benefits. It seems plausible that Joe Manganiello has to sew gold thongs between shows. And sure, there are bad apples that spoil the whole bunch with their immature antics. But because audiences get yanked from seeing the usual brand of glitzy-bordering-on-awkward Chippendale shows to seeing the strippers mini-golf and drink beer without anything of note really happening, it seems uneven.
That doesn't mean the performances aren't fantastic enough to distract me from my disappointment and confusion. Matthew McConaughey is in his element here just like Dazed and Confused, commanding attention at all times (even wearing things other than leather pants). The supporting dancers all hold their own, even if I needed more Mangianello (guess I will have to watch True Blood on slow-mo to ease the pain). And I can see why Soderbergh believes in Channing Tatum so much. Even when he's not really doing anything, he shines without being off-putting. It would have been great to see the guys in the cast actually do something. Sure, they get some time to show off their ample muscles so the whole thing wasn't a total loss, but otherwise, Soderbergh totally ruined my buzz.