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.
(MA15+) Roadshow (471min, $39.95)
(MA15+) Roadshow (164min, $29.95)
(M) Madman (120min, $29.95)