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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Stephen Fitz­patrick

RE­CENTLY the case was made in this space for the en­ter­tain­ing Tom Cruise-filled Rock of Ages, a piece of fan­tasy mu­si­cal the­atre that pulled off a rea­son­ably con­vinc­ing tran­si­tion from Broad­way to the big screen. An alert reader chal­lenged the choice at the time, sug­gest­ing it said ev­ery­thing that needed to be said about my ques­tion­able taste and pre­dict­ing the next thing we’d know, ‘‘you’ll be telling us what a great film Magic Mike is’’.

Well, Jen­nifer Ben­nett, that time has ar­rived quicker than ei­ther of us an­tic­i­pated, and I’ll flatout say it here: Magic Mike (Road­show, MA15+) is an ex­cel­lent piece of work by di­rec­tor Steven Soder­bergh, with cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mances from Chan­ning Ta­tum, Alex Pet­tyfer, Cody Horn and, in par­tic­u­lar, Matthew McConaughey.

Ta­tum, who plays the tit­u­lar role as a male strip­per angling for big­ger things in life, gets a co-pro­ducer credit in­spired, ap­par­ently, by the Florida boy’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the game be­fore find­ing his feet as a model and then TV and cin­ema ac­tor. He’s on the record as say­ing he orig­i­nally wanted Ni­co­las Wind­ing Refn to di­rect, which would have been some­thing quite ex­tra­or­di­nary — just think of the dark per­for­mance the in­scrutable Dane cap­tured from Ryan Gosling in last year’s Drive — but Soder­bergh none­the­less brings a de­light­fully play­ful edge to a very nu­anced film.

The set-up is sim­ple enough and the piece spends the first half hav­ing fun with it­self. McConaughey, as the supremely con­fi­dent Dal­las, leads a troupe of male strip­pers known on-stage as ‘‘the cock-rock­ing kings of Tampa’’, with Ta­tum’s Mike as the key at­trac­tion.

When 19-year-old Adam (Pet­tyfer) saun­ters into town on the back of a dis­as­trous start to a col­lege foot­ball schol­ar­ship, he and Mike fall into lock-step im­me­di­ately and we have the be­gin­nings of an old-fash­ioned buddy flick. Be­fore long Adam has joined the erotic dance re­vue and his eyes are opened to a world about which pre­vi­ously he barely could have dreamed.

How­ever, it’s the leav­en­ing role of his sis­ter Brooke (Horn) that gives the drama one of its an­chor­ing points. Funny and fun-lov­ing but some­how se­ri­ous too, Brooke doesn’t judge her brother’s new work choice and she’s in­trigued by Mike, whose ul­ti­mate aim is to set up his own busi­ness mak­ing un­usual fur­ni­ture. Yes, it’s quirky like that.

Brooke vis­its the strip club once she learns what Adam is up to, and as she watches him per­form there’s a pained in­ten­sity in her eyes that will have you squirm­ing in your seat. Through­out, in fact, Horn plays the part with a nat­u­ral­is­tic hon­esty that could have you for­get­ting she comes from Hol­ly­wood roy­alty, be­ing the daugh­ter of stu­dio big-shot Alan Horn.

The real driver, though, is Mike’s thought­ful emer­gence from chis­elled himbo to some­one who, as he tells Brooke, would be hap­pi­est even if there were no money and no adu­la­tion, just ‘‘liv­ing on the beach some­where, just mak­ing stuff ev­ery sin­gle day’’. There’s a lot to like here — a sort of Boo­gie Nights with­out the tragedy buried in that Paul Thomas An­der­son gem.

This week

(MA15+) Road­show (471min, $39.95)

(MA15+) Road­show (164min, $29.95)

(M) Mad­man (120min, $29.95)

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