Some years ago I had the opportunity of witnessing first hand something most men never see; I was the MC for a group of male strippers performing for one night only in a mid-west dinner theatre and I got to see how the audience – all women, of course – behaved behind closed doors. Other than the guys on stage, I believe I was the only male in the theatre that night. It was quite an experience. I’m still scarred,
After seeing the new Steven Soderbergh ode to the world of male strippers, Magic Mike, memories of that evening flooded back. Whether life behind the scenes is quite how the film portrays it for these men is hard to say, but what happens on stage in Magic Mike and the reaction it gets from the audience, the whole thing rings true, and believe me, it’s not the acts themselves that are fun to watch, it’s the women.
Loosely based on his own life when he was a nineteen year male dancer/stripper, Channing Tatum plays Mike, a man who takes a younger man, Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and teaches him the ropes of performing, how to hit on women and how to make money while doing it. “You are the husband they’ve never had,” Adam is taught. “You are the dream guy that never came along.”
The first half of the film is genuine fun. We’re introduced to the world of male strippers through the eyes of the men who perform there and we learn how they’re expected to behave. The owner of the club Xquisite is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) who expects nothing but the most professional of behavior from his employees. It’s a business, not a pickup market, and Dallas tries to run things as professionally as possible. He’s also something of a performer himself. During the opening sequence, on stage, shirtless – of course – and in front of an ocean of salivating females, before the show begins he explains the rules of no touching. “Fact is, the law says you cannot touch,” he explains, then adds with a sly wink to all the women, “But I think I see a lot of lawbreakers in the house tonight.” He then adds in a calculated move to maximize the screams, “And I don’t see no cops around.”
The Magic Mike of the title is Tatum’s stage name. Off stage, Mike has aspirations for something different; a life away from nightclubs selling custom designed furniture for an upscale market. He needs a loan to get his business off the ground, but in a very good scene with a nervous bank clerk – a woman who no doubt has seen her client on stage and knows who he is – Mike learns that without credit and a credit rating it’s practically impossible to even begin. With the money he sometimes earns on a construction site and the tips he receives at the club, Mike has always dealt exclusively with cash, and even though he has a thick wad of notes as a down payment, the bank is forced to refuse his request. The guy is trapped.
There’s a point halfway through that things sour, and so does the tone of the film. Mike’s impulsive and irresponsible young protégé, Adam becomes involved with selling Ecstasy and things go horribly wrong for everyone involved, including Mike who has to financially rescue Adam, causing a strain between Mike, Adam and Adam’s pleasant though no-nonsense sister, Paige (Cody Horn).
There’s a lot to like in Magic Mike. Tatum is very good and appears to be maturing as an on-screen presence with every film, McConaughey appears to be having the time of life in a role tailor made for his – let’s call it – abilities, the nightclub acts are great fun and well staged, and I can certainly testify to the authentic reaction shots of the more than appreciative female audience. But ultimately the film runs longer than it should, and the downbeat atmosphere of a world collapsing around the lead characters makes the film wear out its welcome sooner than expected.
Plus, the film doesn’t really end, it stops, and it comes to its halt just when things start to look promising for Mike and Paige’s future. At the fade out, the audience at the screening groaned in unison as if to say, “That’s it?” Just at that moment, like the women in the nightclub whose fantasy can never be fully satisfied, you may find yourself wanting a little more.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 110 minutes Overall rating: 6 (out of 10)