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Friday, June 29, 2012 - Page updated at 01:00 p.m.
'Magic Mike': Baring a world of impressive gyrations, little magic
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Five handsome, unsmiling young men, garbed in raincoats and holding umbrellas at suggestive angles, pose on a stage. As the music begins to play, they don't exactly dance, but do some choreographed pointing in random directions while looking sultry. And then ... well, it's not exactly "Singin' in the Rain."
"Magic Mike," the latest uneven entry in Steven Soderbergh's up-and-down career, is set in the mysterious world of male strip clubs; specifically, Club Xquisite, a Tampa establishment owned by an ultra-tan gentleman named Dallas (Matthew McConaughey in an ever-present cowboy hat, purring all his lines in a velvet drawl). In the course of the story — inspired by star Channing Tatum's real-life stint as a stripper — we learn that such work is lucrative, dangerous (due to drug connections, the likes of which can sweep up an innocent would-be exotic dancer) and defiant of the conventions of society. We do not learn, alas, exactly how breakaway pants work, though we see them expertly wielded.
Tatum, a genial but inexpressive presence, plays Mike, the snake-hipped star of Club Xquisite, who's offstage a mild-mannered construction worker who really just wants to design unattractive furniture. (We see a booklet of his designs; no wonder the bank won't lend him money.) At a roofing job, he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), soon known to all as The Kid, and invites him to the club for an evening. Adam, gazing from the wings, is dazzled by the glamour of it all; soon, he's shopping for thongs and shaking it for bachelorette parties and drunken cougars.
The events of the film take place over a summer, and nothing much happens that we wouldn't expect. Mike falls for Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn), perhaps because she's even more blank than he is; Adam gets caught up in a world of dangerous drugs and sex; and we get a very tight close-up of McConaughey's golden-G-stringed rear end, which at least seems to be having a good time.
But a movie in which the most nuanced performance is given by a body part has real problems. Soderbergh's assembled a young, attractive cast without a spark of charisma or chemistry. Perhaps the idea is that these people, who speak primarily in four-letter-words and grunts, are numbed by the empty world they inhabit, but it's often dull to watch, despite the admittedly impressive gyrations.
Neither comedy nor drama, "Magic Mike" exists as an odd semidocumentary about an even odder profession. It's not quite a male "Showgirls," but it's not much fun either. (Soderbergh even resorts to cheap laughs, such as having a stripper injure his back after lifting a non-waif-sized fan onstage.) You wonder what movie he thought he was making; you wonder which characters we're supposed to care about; you wonder how Tatum's managed to make a career from being pleasantly not-quite-there. And you wonder about those pants, but that's a question for another day.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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