CHANNING Tatum’s road to Hollywood stardom has been long and circuitous: After getting cast as a dancer in Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” music video, the actor reinvented himself as a topnotch Ford model, appearing in high-profile campaigns for Emporio Armani, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Dolce & Gabbana. But, Tatum feels that moviegoers can learn more from one of his past “odd jobs,” when he was merely 19 years old—as an exotic dancer!
In “Magic Mike,” director Steven Soderberg (loosely) takes inspiration from Tatum’s stint as a teenage stripper. The gritty drama follows how 19-year-old Adam aka The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) is drawn into exotic dancing by 30-year-old Mike (Tatum), who teaches him the tricks of the flesh trade.
Mike knows his way around the booty-shaking business, because he is one of the top attractions of the striptease act managed by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). But, with the quick buck and hard partying come other habit-forming activities—sex and drugs—that give the impressionable newcomer a false sense of emancipation and power. It doesn’t take long before Adam’s amoral lifestyle catches up with him and his doting sister, Brooke (Cody Horn).
Soderbergh offers viewers a disturbing albeit humanizing peek into the lives of male strippers, who display more than just their chiselled pecs and abs to titillate fun-seeking women. When the exposition boldly ventures into the protagonists’ back stories, it’s hard not to feel bad about the achievable but unrealized ambitions they have given up on—especially Mike’s dream of designing and manufacturing furniture.
Pettyfer fulfills the physical requirements of the “ingenue” role he portrays, but lacks the fire needed to ignite his suggested chemistry with Tatum’s character (the two allegedly did not get along well on the film set—and it shows).
The film effectively taps into Tatum’s heretofore unrecognized dramatic potential, especially when his character realizes that he’s reneged on his promise to take care of Brooke’s younger brother. For his part, McConaughey delivers a scene-stealing portrayal that showcases his vaunted screen presence and charisma, which have lately been compromised by bad career choices!
For local viewers, the biggest distraction when watching “Magic Mike” is in the way some of its “sensitive” scenes have been injudiciously “sanitized” to suit the local censors’ taste—which is distressing to watch because, if you’re familiar with Soderbergh’s oeuvre, you know that the award-winning director of “Traffic,” “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and “Erin Brockovich” doesn’t shoot scenes that are unnecessary or gratuitous. —Unless the people responsible for the movie’s graceless snips and skips thought that the film they were viewing was a Disneyfied drama about sex- and drug-addicted male strippers!