**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras D+
starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey
screenplay by Reid Carolin
directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Angelo Muredda Magic Mike opens with Saul Bass's red-and-black Warner Bros. logo, retired in 1984. That gesture is meant, I think, to pitch what follows as a throwback to smarter studio fare along the lines of Hal Ashby's Being There, but it also courts less flattering comparisons to the likes of the Police Academy movies. Steven Soderbergh's latest pop exercise falls somewhere between those two poles--a little too close for comfort to the Guttenberg side. Conceived as a loose riff on star Channing Tatum's time as a male stripper, it has a solid run as a cheerful smut delivery mechanism before hanging up its thong to become a rote ‘80s melodrama about good kids corrupted by bad drugs. If the howl of "Yes!" that greeted the first bared ass at my screening is any indication, that transformation won't hurt the bottom line (a figure these strippers always seem to have on their minds), though it does make Magic Mike another promising yet half-baked Soderbergh project instead of a good movie, sans asterisks.
Soderbergh claims the milieu is what sold him on the story, which Tatum had already been developing as a producer, and the most compelling stuff is predictably the backstage camaraderie among the strippers. The G.I. Joe alum is the titular "magic" stud, an enterprising furniture artisan (and roofer on the side) who wants to get out of the stripping game before he's 40. He has a clear model of what not to be in club owner and ringleader Dallas, who Matthew McConaughey plays with the kind of manic aplomb that's destined for both awards consideration and respect from people who've been awaiting his career renaissance for years. Dallas has dreams of taking his business to Malibu so that his hypothetical kids will have stock options someday, and his ace in the hole is Mike's new find Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old bum they dub "The Kid" and push onstage to the sounds of "Like a Virgin."
That song cue is our first hint that as clever as the idea of a movie about equity-obsessed male strippers is, at its core Magic Mike is a conventional, on-the-nose thing about a bright ingénue who leaves his handlers in a tailspin. If McConaughey's caution that "It ain't gonna be this easy every time" isn't prophetic enough, we also get choice nuggets like "You'd better take care of him, Mike" from Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn), a wet-blanket audience surrogate with whom Mike inexplicably falls in love. Still, watching Soderbergh defer this lazy trajectory for as long as possible is oddly suspenseful. The early scenes between Mike and Adam have enough homoerotic bonding to fill two Kathryn Bigelow movies; both are charming in an ace late-night drive where Adam tries to pay for gas, which Mike dismisses as "a really sweet gesture." Though a set-piece that sees a loan-seeking Mike strutting into a bank with a suitcase full of hundred-dollar bills feels like a retread from Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, down to the same obvious punchline that sex workers care about the economy, too, Tatum ably sells his character as a guy who can monetize either his personality or his body, depending on who's buying.
There's a canned quality to an awful lot of this economic chatter, and you sense screenwriter Reid Carolin (who's also onscreen as one of Dallas's strippers) is unduly taken with the hard-nosed reality of it all. Smug as it is, though, the film coasts for a while on the strength of the relaxed cast and Soderbergh alter ego Peter Andrews's unfussy lensing of the nude acrobatics. It works until the plot kicks into gear and Mike is forced to put his dreams on the line for a young charge who's taken to slipping E to sorority girls and engaging in sketchy threesomes with shirtless drug lords. Soderbergh surely gets an ironic kick out of making a drug-laced Afterschool Special on this scale, but who cares? It's just another tick on his genre to-do list, not worth his or his audience's time. Magic Mike isn't the sort of movie you want to beat up on: it has an easy charm that makes it a hell of a lot more engaging than the antiseptic apocalypse of Contagion or the chilly body-hits of Haywire. But it's as restless as its director's recent filmography--less a self-contained work than a hit-and-miss variety show.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner brings Magic Mike to Blu-ray in a presentation that should please connoisseurs of Channing's tatums. This is another "Peter Andrews" special, heavy on the jaundice-chic yellow filters, but it looks both slightly sharper and a little more cinematic on Blu-ray than does Steven Soderbergh's previous film, Haywire. A switch in cameras from the Red One to the Red Epic may account for this, though Magic Mike in general has many more opportunities for standout glossy moments, and every scene set inside Xquisite positively gleams. The 2.40:1, 1080p image also has solid dynamic range, although contrast infrequently lacks depth in a way that goes beyond Soderbergh's obvious intention to sometimes affect a hazy Seventies vibe. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is just astonishing during the strip numbers, transforming your home-theatre space into a sweaty Miami nightclub complete with sledgehammer bass, crowd noise that blossoms like an angry flower, and an MC voice (belonging to Matthew McConaughey) that seemingly bounces off the walls. I wish the rest of the film weren't so comparatively quiet, but I get that Soderbergh was going for a dichotomy, and the mix is at least consistently abuzz with activity.
A downright miserly selection of extras begins with a brief behind-the-scenes featurette ("Backstage on Magic Mike" (7 mins., HD)) dominated by choreographer Alison Faulk, who regards the actors from the foot of the stage like a proud dance mom. Soderbergh is absent, but included is a funny wardrobe malfunction from McConaughey, as well as Matt Bomer's candid revelation that his conservative upbringing definitely did not prepare him for the role of an exotic dancer. A "dance play" mode distils Magic Mike into a 19-minute block of spank footage, while "Extended Dance Sequences" (9 mins., HD) offers one more striptease apiece from Bomer, Joe Manganiello, and Adam Rodriguez--these ones particularly conceptual, over-the-top, and endless. The BD comes with the requisite bonus DVD/Digital Copy.