Predictably, much of the attention surrounding Magic Mike has focussed on the amount of bare male flesh on display. Partly this is because Hollywood is notorious for cheerfully throwing female nudity up on the screen without batting an eyelid, while remaining remarkably reticent to do the same for the opposite sex. Even here, in a film about male strippers, a girl goes topless in the first five minutes while the men’s modesty more or less remains intact (though you may think you see more than you actually do).
But those hoping for The Full Monty 2 will go away disappointed. This is actually a low-key and quietly absorbing drama about stripper Mike (Channing Tatum) who introduces a wet-behind-the-ears newcomer (Alex Pettyfer) to the trade even as he starts to fall in love with the lad’s sister (Olivia Munn). Mike has turned 30 and is trying to get his custom furniture business off the ground as an alternative to the strip club, though he’s still happy to take the easy money and equally easy women that come his way from the main job.
The story – exposing the rather seedy underbelly of an “entertainment” industry, and Mike’s increasing disillusionment with it – we’ve seen many times before, but as with previous films like Erin Brockovich and Out of Sight, director Steven Soderbergh has taken conventional material and elevated it to the level of high art with his stylish visual approach and a clutch of strong performances.
Soderbergh opts to shoot in a sort of semi-documentary style, with the occasionally mumbled dialogue sounding semi-improvised at times. The cinematography – colourful and bright at night, hazy and washed out in the daytime – appropriately evokes the nocturnal existence of the strippers.
It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that is most engaging – the footage of the men shaving their legs or stitching their thongs back together. The juxtaposition of these beefy muscular guys actually being quite feminine backstage is gently funny and rather touching.
It’s not perfect: the story does sag noticeably around the halfway point, and there’s a distinct lack of drama as the film meanders towards its conclusion, but the characters are sympathetic enough to carry us through to the end.
Oh, and the Oscar campaign for Best Supporting Actor for Matthew McConaughey starts here – he sends himself up brilliantly.