This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 29th July 2012
No doubt the target market for this female-friendly screamfest booked the Girls’ Night Out the moment they saw the trailer. Welcome to the bright lights and buff bodies of Club Xquisite, where a group of male strippers, friendly and caring – ostensibly not a sleaze among them – labour by day, then work hard all night to show the ladies a good time. How gallant!
Director Steven Soderbergh has made really good films since his 1989 feature debut of sex, lies and videotape – granted, he got a bit silly and gratuitous with the interminable Oceans movies, but his overarching talent in Traffic and Out of Sight exonerates him.
How surprising, then, to match him up with torso du jour, Channing Tatum (The Vow), young up-and-comer Alex Pettyfer and an overexcited Matthew McConaughey in this roughed-up tale of “peelers” aiming to make the big time.
Mike (Tatum) takes young Adam under his wing and introduces the novice to a life of exotic dance and, with it, the darker world of drugs and partying, which the 19-year-old takes to better than he does the stage (though Adam’s cherry-popping performance is as charming as it is hilarious). The crew welcome “the Kid” into their show, and before long Adam is driving a flash car and seducing girls. Naturally, his concerned older sister Brooke is unhappy about all this, and plays the obligatory fly in the ointment.
So far, so cliched. But this is Soderbergh, and there is more sand in the fake tan than you’d expect. The drug-taking is hard, the sex relentlessly casual and with pounding nightclub music at every opportunity, the viewer gets a real taste of the dream that has caught Adam in its web. Lingering camerawork and long-held takes allow scenes to travel at a natural pace, giving a sense of improvised dialogue in places. On the whole, the performances are solid. McConaughey may be at times a bit over the top, but his club-owner’s patter is hugely enjoyable, and physically he clearly went method for the role.
Pettyfer (who started out in teen drama Alex Rider) is pretty if weak, a little too Ryan Philippe in the pouting jaw department, though still well-cast. But it doesn’t matter – the film belongs to Tatum’s Magic Mike, who surprises with his comic timing and gentle courting of the angry sister. Inevitably, for a performance-oriented story, it’s a bit like Burlesque at times, only with Tatum in the Christina Aguilera role, showing off sensational dance moves and great rhythm. (I am actually talking about his feet – truly.)
Magic Mike will impress those who like tightly choreographed dance routines and, er, costume changes, though it may also confuse anyone just hoping for some light relief. It’s the balance of light and dark, plus decent acting, that makes this slightly better than your average dance/performance movie.
Whether you find Mike magic or not is up to you.