I didn't always yearn to be a film critic. I had other aspirations, other dreams. Being a male stripper, however, was never one of them, and nothing I saw in"Magic Mike"made me want to change my mind.
Yes, the new film from director Steven Soderbergh makes it look like there are some pluses to that line of work, at least initially. Women are plentiful and adoring, the parties non-stop, and there is the matter of money — all those ones, fives and tens stuffed into your pants. There's even, we're told, the occasional twenty, but, Magic Mike, played by Channing Tatum, cautions darkly, "You don't want to know what I have to do for twenties."
But, sad to say, serious relationships are hard to sustain in this line of work, because the discerning good women of this world, skeptical of your moral fiber, won't give you the time of day. And that's got to hurt.
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Likewise, though "Magic Mike" begins nicely with the jazzy pizazz of performance, its surface transgressive behavior soon sinks under the weight of an undernourished emotional component that's as old-fashioned moralistic as they come.
If you've already heard anything about "Magic Mike," you may be surprised to know that this film has any emotional component at all. It's the buzz of what goes on behind the scenes as hot guys take it all off before a wild and sweaty all-female crowd that has gotten almost all the attention.
Clearly it was this element that captivated Soderbergh, who jumped at doing the project when he heard that Tatum engaged briefly in this very activity before acting lured him to Hollywood.
In the clunky script written by Reid Carolin, who heads the actor's production company, Tatum stars as Mike, a Tampa terpsichorean first met waking up after a night of presumed erotic activity with two women, only one of whom (Olivia Munn's adventurous Joanna) he actually knows the name of.
But Mike, a.k.a. the sole owner and proprietor of Mike's Custom Detailing as well as the designer of dubious custom furniture, has to hustle to make ends meet, which means promptly taking off for his day job of putting roofs on other people's mansions.
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There he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old college dropout currently couch surfing on his sister's sofa, a bear of so little brain that even Mike takes pity on him. He dubs Adam "The Kid" and introduces him to the world of Club Xquisite and its Male Dance Review, managed by entrepreneurial former dancer Dallas (an amusing Matthew McConaughey), whose only regret in life is the years he wasted in high school.
Though the film would have you believe that Mike and his team of dancers — an amorphous group of thinly drawn types with names like Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) — barely practice and use a kitchen as a dressing room, the elaborately costumed and choreographed dances they execute would do credit to the Rockettes.
Working with the actors and a top team of Hollywood professionals — production designer Howard Cummings, costume designer Christopher Peterson, music supervisor Frankie Pine and choreographer Alison Faulk (who's collaborated with Britney Spears and Madonna) — Soderbergh relishes the film's hot dog moments and has made sure that the onstage part of "Magic Mike" is characterized by energy and flash.
Granted, the pantomime bumping and grinding the dancers do with selected women does not look like fun, but who am I to judge?
Life, however, cannot be lived entirely on stage, and once the characters have to take off their thongs and return to their real lives, the film goes nowhere that is either interesting, involving or surprising.
The first non-surprise is that though the Kid is initially hired as an assistant, a last-minute stripper crisis means that he is thrust on stage and, yes, he goes out there a youngster and comes back a potential star.
But though the Kid quickly develops a taste for hearty partying, he never loses that "I'm in Over My Head" stamp on his forehead, a designation that forces Mike to repeatedly step in and try to save him.
Those rescue missions put Mike in increasing touch with the Kid's older sister Brooke (newcomer Cody Horn), a serious sort who reads books in hard covers and holds down a 9-to-5 job. Brooke is also the only woman in Tampa who starts out immune to Mike's charms, which, this being the kind of movie it is, immediately makes her the only woman he is seriously interested in.
Reluctant romance is of course a Hollywood staple, but "Magic Mike's" version of it is dead on arrival. Tatum displays charisma and style, but he and Horn have less chemistry than Abe Lincoln and the vampires he hunts.
If filmmaker Soderbergh had paid as much attention to relationship dynamics as he does to dance number mechanics, this film would have gotten closer to living up to the magic in its name.
MPAA rating: R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: In general release