By Joan Ellis
If you’re up for a thoroughly unpleasant movie with some fair to middling acting, then trundle yourself off to Magic Mike. From beginning to end, this movie is the backstage world of a strip club where “The Tampa Kings” entertain a full house of squealing women. That world is made of dark rooms, alcohol, sex, drugs, and the money that passes from hand to thong as those grim addictions turn young men into commodities. And they have to be young.
Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) is the boss of the club and frequently the leading man in the shows he stages nightly; he gyrates the implications but knows he’s too old to take off his clothes. Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) is pushing the dreaded age of 40, still no closer to his dream of starting a design/build furniture business than he was when he was a fledgling stripper. Adam (Alex Pettyfer) has neither ambition nor dreams; nothing sparks his interest; he is empty. Out of funds – no surprise – he has come to Tampa in search of free shelter with his hardworking, bookish sister Brooke (Cody Horn.) After meeting Magic Mike, Adam joins the troop – awkwardly at first, then soaring to strip joint stardom.
The questions lofted to the audience are the obvious ones: Will Magic Mike ever realize his dream? Will Adam wake up before he is doomed? Will straight-arrow Brooke find happiness on the edges of the dark world her brother has brought to her front door? This may sound like a plot, but trust me, it’s incidental to the wreckage of the men who choose to wrap themselves in this dark world.
After a stranger in the audience told me this film reminded her of Boogie Nights, I pulled up my review of that movie that was set in the world of the hard-core porn industry and was surprised to see my own high praise of Burt Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, and director Paul Thomas Anderson.
At 27, Anderson managed to inject great compassion into a movie about sex as public entertainment. Like the characters in Magic Mike, this was a group of needy, damaged people who were searching for their own dignity in an undignified profession. It was a disturbing and original film where the characters were fully realized people who made us care about them.
So what made Boogie Nights compelling and Magic Mike just plain dull? The leading actors are capable but they can’t overcome dishwater dialogue. Cody Horn and Channing Tatum will resurface but we wonder how many wretched men Matthew McConaughey can play. We watch the DJ, the thuggish loan collectors, the slimy peripherals and the strippers while trying to find a connection with any one of them. But these people exist only in the actual and metaphorical dark. Rather than rooting for sparks of obvious humanity, we feel instead like going home to take a shower to wash off the sleaze.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.