There’s a Bret Easton Ellis character by the name of Sean Bateman, young stoner brother to the infamous Patrick. He makes his first appearance in the novel The Rules of Attraction as a laid back, ultra cool dude who can barely string a complete sentence together, often resorting to the catchphrase “Rock ‘n roll. Deal with it.”
Steven Soderbergh’s new film feels much the same as this loose, lazy phrase. Based on (and starring) Channing Tatum’s own Hollywood beginnings as a male stripper, it is a vehicle for sweaty abs and another excuse for Matthew McConoughey to take his shirt off. There’s the typical melodrama that seems to accompany every film involving a person that takes their clothes off for money – questioning of their identity by themselves and others – and once again it’s answered with them falling in love with citizen do-gooder, this time in the shape of a medical assistant. Played by Cody Horn, the ultimate female equivalent of Sean Bateman, she spends most of the film threatening to fall asleep.
As with a lot of Soderbergh films, they’re incredibly pretty to look at but lack any real depth and this is no exception. Of course he’s proved this wrong on multiple occasions but for every Sex, Lies and Videotape there’s an Oceans Twelve. Magic Mike follows the rule and presents 110 minutes of cut outs from a GQ catalogue. Channing Tatum is given his time to shine and prove he’s not just a stack of well-defined muscle and although he’s mostly just wandering around in a daze he’s endearing to watch and doesn’t manage to screw it up completely.
Where this film should be commended however is the gender role reversal that Soderbergh presents to us. Generally this is about females getting naked and parading as objects to drunks and fratboys or a burlesque troupe that can’t wait to entertain the men. McConoughey, somehow, manages to become a menacing presence even on the stage barely clothed and there’s constant cutaways to the boys performing their routines and the cameras don’t shy away from the hulking muscle that all the women are screaming in joy at.
At risk of encouraging immature comments, what did come as a surprise was the sheer lack of male nudity. There’s plenty of topless men and bare asses walking around but no penises in sight. From a gender reversal perspective, why? When women are portrayed in the same scenario as Mike and his friends there’s barely a pause between the sheer amount of breasts on display and the occasional full-frontal vagina, if we’re so lucky. Shouldn’t men cop it just as equally?
I’m not sure how the ratings system works – if a dong encourages a higher age rating and Soderbergh wanted to keep it at M – but it seemed strange that in encouraging the portrayal of men as sex symbols he has shied away from the very organs that do this. We’re given a fleeting glimpse of Mike’s magic and one brief, heavily blurred glimpse that’s more for a joke pun than anything else. What makes it even stranger is the couple of breasts on display being a complete non-issue for the camera, including those of a supporting actor.
Though it doesn’t ever reach the stage of sheer boredom, Magic Mike is a light-hearted take on the male stripping industry. It’s trying to be an adult romantic comedy, which it succeeds in doing so, but at the risk of thinking it is a drama and failing miserably. We don’t care that Mike is unhappy with his breadwinning occupation and falling out of love constantly. We don’t care about the drug subplot involving an amusing Alex Pettyfer.
Everyone in this is a beautiful narcissitic supermodel that loves Soderbergh’s familiar cinematography and Sean Bateman would be proud. But the rest of us will leave the cinema wishing the film could have been a little bit deeper.
Rock n roll. Deal with it.
and a half
Directed: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Reid Carolin (screenplay)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer and Olivia Munn
Magic Mike is released in Australia from July 26.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire