The 2012 stripper dramedy “Magic Mike” was tailor-made for women and gay or bisexual men, and that’s great: more blockbusters should be made without straight dudes in mind. But that same, exhaustively targeted demographic needn’t try to act above it. In fact, some of us who identify on the other side of the sexual spectrum have seen it multiple times. With the sequel “Magic Mike XXL” out Wednesday, we look at reasons everyone can love the first one, and not just because of the plethora of gyrating studs (though those too).
It’s really well-made
“Magic Mike” delivers the goods, said goods being junk thrusted towards the lens, plus Channing Tatum buttage in minute two. But it wasn’t helmed by some exploitation hack; it was helmed by a guy who was nominated for two Best Director Oscars the same year. (He won for “Traffic,” over “Erin Brockovich.”) Steven Soderbergh is retired from movies now, allegedly, maybe, but in his last years (this was his penultimate film) he loved making experimental twists on genre fare. “Magic Mike” plays things more safe than the action film “Haywire,” but it still has that detached, almost clinical tone that helps downplay the script’s (very occasional) soapier, hoarier tendencies. He loves to have his actors riff in long takes; scenes between Tatum’s Mike Lane and love interest Cody Horn groove on their particularly silly chemistry. And because Soderbergh photographed it too (as he did “XXL,” which he did not direct) it looks great, and not only when ripped alpha gods are parading about in only neckties.
It’s about something
Stripping is a job, and “Magic Mike” never forgets it. In fact this is very much a film in our world, namely one still caught up in an economic freefall. Tatum’s Mike Lane is a good, honest hustler who knows how to lure ladies to his shows without seeming skeezy. He’s also nipping at his real dream: an oddball furniture business, and one he simply can’t get off the ground. Money is always on everyone’s mind. Sometimes they’re even funny about it. In a scene where Mike tries and fails to get a loan from a bank, his very real exasperation is expressed in a very modern vernacular: “I read the news. I know the ones in distress are y’all.” Speaking of which…
It’s pretty funny
Along with bearing its star’s dance moves and deeply impressive back-flip abilities, “Magic Mike” is a showcase for Tatum’s by-now-established comedic chops. He has a way with a mumbly, weird line reading, plus an endearing knack for letting his goofy side fly. Watch a scene halfway through where he clearly screws up a line then laughs his way back on track; you can see someone who’s far from a mere slab of beefcake. Tatum’s jokey side mixes nicely with that of his director, who has one of the oddest senses of humor in the biz. Soderbergh gives “Magic Mike” a deadpan air, plus oddball jokes, like the retro Warner Brothers logo that opens the film to closing the film out with no less than Foreigner. And he forces sinister emcee Matthew McConaughey, right at the start of his McConaughey 2.0 phase, to not only say “Alright, alright, alright” but play the bongos.
The dancing is good
Straight men, don’t be so uptight. A solid dance scene is a solid dance scene, and even if you’re no great admirer of the male figure you can enjoy the copious stripping numbers as performances. You can also enjoy them for what they aren’t, namely sequences whose chief visual pleasure is not for straight men. That rarely happens in blockbuster cinema, which is almost uniformly aimed at delighting male teens or the male teens inside us (maybe). That the dances are goofy, filled with silly costumes and ridiculous concepts, helps too. If you’re a straight male watching “Magic Mike,” you can get outside your own needs and enjoy that someone who isn’t you is, for a change, being taken to a happy place.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge