Steven Soderbergh is one of those directors, much like contemporary Richard Linklater or their historical precursor Howard Hawks, that you never know what is coming next. Jumping all of the cinematic board, from political thriller to revisionist western to literary doo-dad to mainstream pop, Soderbergh has seemingly titillated just about every genre fan out there, from the casual multiplexer to the hardcore cinephile, and everyone in between. With Magic Mike, the prolific director's twenty-fifth film in just twenty-four years, Soderbergh has created a film that may just titillate both ends of this aforementioned moviegoing spectrum.
Much like the director's other film out this year, Haywire, where the action genre was deconstructed to show its smooth inner workings, Magic Mike, with its male strip club storyline, tears apart the idea of sexuality and masculinity and shows its own bare boned inside stuff. The film stars Channing Tatum (with roles in both Haywire and the director's upcoming The Bitter Pill, he plays at being Soderbergh's new it boy) as the titular exotic dancer who plays mentor to Alex Pettyfer's young up-and-comer in the Tampa's glitzy, seedy strip club world. Based in part on Tatum's own early life as a male stripper in the Florida city (with Pettyfer ostensibly playing the real-life Tatum role), we are given a quick glimpse into a world most of us know nothing about, and much like Soderbergh's controversial 2009 film, The Girlfriend Experience, this world of sex is shown in a cool and calculating manner that gives the film an almost analytical style. Oh yes, there is quite a lot of prerequisite grinding (though no full frontals ladies) but the film is not about stripping so much as it is about coming to terms with your own life and your own limitations and gaining the knowledge and courage to change one's life.
But as analytical as the film gets - and it never gets to the point of dry dissertation that GFE did (a film about a high end prostitute, in turn played by an actual porn star, that never shows the act of sex? WTF!?) - there is great fun indeed. With allusions to Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and in turn Ferarra's Go Go Tales, the stage productions are both elaborate and quite hilarious, and with Soderbergh's beloved red camera weaving its way through the strobed and glittering nightlife, as well as garish and harsh daylights of the Florida town, Magic Mike ends up being a film that will please both that so-called multiplex crowd that would flock to an (inevitable?) Ocean's Fourteen (not to mention the middle age ladies crowd), and all those cinema geeks that are always on the lookout for another Sex, Lies & Videotape. Of course the highlight of the film comes from Matthew McConaughey, an actor who after years of rom-com purgatory, has suddenly decided he wants to do good movies again (just take a look at the recently released Bernie and the upcoming Killer Joe) and here plays the club's head honcho, almost as if he were a natural extension of David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused. Alright alright. In the end, Magic Mike, much like Haywire, is not only one of the most esoteric films of the year, but also one of the best.