Steven Soderbergh’s semi-rags to not-quite-riches story of a young Tampa male stripper and his introduction to the world confirms two things.
First, Soderbergh is one of those rare talents who can direct most any kind of film, be it jokey caper flicks (The Oceans movies), intricate ensemble thrillers (Contagion, Traffic), meditative crime pictures (Underneath, The Limey), comic crime pictures (Out of Sight), period pieces (King of the Hill), star vehicles/accessible treacle (Erin Brockovich), action flicks (Haywire), and biographical comedies (The Informant). Hell, Soderbergh even coaxed a passable performance from porn star Sasha Grey (Entourage, Slut Puppies 2) in The Girlfriend Experience.
Second, while Channing Tatum is a huge star, he’s also going to be an enduring one. He showed a real affinity for comedy in 21 Jump Street and in Magic Mike, he reveals depth to go with his light touch. He is undeniably attractive, but he’s also winning and vulnerable. He will be touching the erogenous, mommy and soulmate zones of female viewers for a long time.
Tatum is one of a troupe of male strippers under the sway of club owner Matthew McConaughey, who has taken oily to new heights. The men live in a bubble world, scoring $500 a night to dance for Tampa’s enthusiastic females, while living a dream of sun, fun and ecstacy (the drug and constant and varied sex). Tatum, however, has a bigger dream. Though he wants equity in the club, which will soon be going big time in Miami, he has other irons in the fire. When he becomes the big brother to a new 19 year old dancer (Alex Pettyfer), he falls for Pettfyfer’s protective sister (Cody Horn) and rethinks his situation.
Soderbergh manages to make the world both enticing and seedy (though not as comic as Demi Moore’s milieu in Striptease, it is a similar evocation), which makes Mike’s dilemma convincing. Tatum delivers his crisis of conscience and his desire to “be something” so you buy in. A weakness, however, is Soderbergh’s decision on too many dance/strip/hump sequences. Admittedly, I am not the target audience for these scenes, if they were meant to be erotic or titillating, but save for one scene where Horn actually watches Tatum ply his trade (her response is equivocal, a mix of fascination and discomfort), I don’t think that’s where Soderbergh was heading. Indeed, the male revue world is loudly bacchanalian, with women whooping and hollering in mock lust and real joy, a jarring contrast to the world of female stripping, where, as Larry Miller used to joke, the men eye the strippers like lions eye antelope.