Channing Tatum (center) in "Magic Mike." (Claudette Barius / Warner…)
Were it not for the presence of brainy director Steven Soderbergh, it might be easy to write off the male-stripper movie "Magic Mike" — which features Hollywood beefcakes Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello and Matthew McConaughey in various stages of undress — as mere eye candy. But many reviewers are finding the film, which is informed by Tatum's own experiences as an exotic dancer, to be a sly entertainment with some impressive performances, onstage and off.
But The Times' Kenneth Turan is not one of them. Despite a lively start, Turan says, the film isn't as edgy as it presumes to be and "soon sinks under the weight of an undernourished emotional component that's as old-fashioned moralistic as they come." The script (by Reid Carolin, Tatum's producing partner) is "clunky," and although Soderbergh delivers "energy and flash" in the onstage scenes, the film falters offstage: "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." On the plus side, McConaughey is "amusing" as an oily club owner and "Tatum displays charisma and style" in the title role.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, however, gives a rave review. "If ['Magic Mike'] falls short of greatness, it's not by much," LaSalle gushes, adding, "it is exceptional and one of the best and most original pictures to come along in 2012." Tatum is "red-hot" and should solidify his stardom with his role, and the wit and naturalness of Carolin's screenplay (about a veteran stripper taking a rookie under his wing) mesh well with Soderbergh's pithy editing and documentary-style shooting.
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis calls the pairing of Soderbergh and Tatum "a gamble, one that has brought out the best in each." She adds, "What could have been an embarrassing misfire hinted at by the movie’s misleading trailers is instead a smoothly distilled collaboration that balances Mr. Tatum’s heat and charm … with Mr. Soderbergh’s cool, cinematic intelligence and ongoing preoccupations." Also deserving of praise is the "spectacular, amusingly sleazed-out" McConaughey.
Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post declares the film "gratifyingly underplayed." Soderbergh takes the same "lighthearted, unfussy" tack he did for "Haywire" and the "Ocean's" movies, and Tatum delivers "a wonderfully playful, spontaneous performance." In other words, "'Magic Mike' makes it rain but never looks like it’s working hard for the money."
Salon's Andrew O'Hehir finds "Magic Mike" to be "a fascinating film, one of [Soderbergh's] best in recent years." There's much to like from the cast, including McConaughey's "scene-stealing, award-worthy performance," Cody Horn's "very good" turn as Tatum's love interest and Alex Pettyfer's "tremendous, vulnerable performance here as an innocent all too easily seduced by his new life." And, O'Hehir adds, it's not all "randy, escapist fun" — it's also a dark parable about the dangers of capitalism, much in the same vein as "Che," "Traffic" and "Contagion."
If that all sounds a bit heavy, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times sums up "Magic Mike" as "a crafty mixture of comedy, romance, melodrama and some remarkably well-staged strip routines involving hunky, good-looking guys."
And really, what more could you ask for?
For 'Magic Mike' crew, being sexy is a lot of work