Steven Soderbergh, despite threats of an early retirement, continues his relentless pace with the entertaining, sneakily incisive Magic Mike, the 49-year-old director’s 11th effort since 2004 and his third in less than a year following the effective thrillers Contagion and Haywire. (By comparison, his buddy David Fincher has made nine movies since 1992.)
Set amid the lively nightclubs and amber-hued sunlight of Tampa, Fla., the narrative follows a veteran male stripper, aka “Magic” Mike (Channing Tatum, whose own experiences as a dancer inspired the project), who teaches a naïve newcomer dubbed The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) the ins and outs of the profession. An oily, scene-stealing Matthew McConaughey, who seems to be channeling a bit of his Wooderson in Dazed and Confused, plays the demanding boss where the guys work.
And, in what ends up being a fruitful subplot, The Kid lives with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn), a nurse’s assistant who’s worried that her younger brother is making an ill-advised career choice and who’s intrigued as much by Mike’s easy-going charm as she is his ornate abs.
Magic Mike was an unexpected box-office hit (more than $113 million behind a measly $7 million budget) largely due to its ability to attract eye-candy-seeking ladies and gay men, but its real achievement lies within its sly commentary on the sorry state of our current economic climate and its naturalistic, often humor-laced dialogue. When Mike, whose ambition is to start his own handcrafted furniture business, goes to a bank in hopes of procuring a small-business loan, he’s told that his credit score is below their borrowing threshold and that they have options for those with “distressed” finances. “You hit a few buttons (on your computer) and you think you know something about me,” he responds incredulously. “The only thing distressed is y’all.” It’s a brief but pivotal scene, one that signals the story’s move from amusing character study to a darker and slightly more conventional tale about the need to follow one’s heart.
Magic Mike is another curious entry in what is rapidly becoming the most interesting directorial resume in semi-mainstream American moviemaking. Now if we can just keep Soderbergh from retiring. Grade: A-