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Don't give up the day job

Magic Mike (15)
Review rating **Channing Tatum stars as Magic Mike, a thirty-something builder and odd-job man who works at a male strip club on the side.
Mike is also a talented carpenter, and although he enjoys the obvious perks that stripping can bring, he really wants to start his own bespoke furniture business. Into Mike’s life slouches the sculpted (but rather sullen) figure of Adam (Alex Pettyfer), an indolent college-dropout recently arrived in town and looking for work. After meeting Adam on a building site, Mike spots the kid’s potential and sets about initiating him in the mysterious ways of male-stripping.
To his credit, director Steven Soderbergh does a solid enough job in making this initiation process entertaining and watchable. The film’s bildungsroman structure works a bit like The Karate Kid with added posing pouches, with Pettyfer as the young novice and Tatum as a beefed-up Mr Miyagi. It’s a familiar device, but it works well.
Some praise is also due to Channing Tatum in the title role. Tatum reputedly worked as a male stripper in his early career, and he seems to bring this experience (plus some surprisingly good dance moves) to the part. Tatum doesn’t quite capture the boisterous humour of his character in 21 Jump Street, and Mike can seem a little too saintly at times, but overall this is a likeable portrayal.
Fundamentally, however, the film remains a fairly superficial affair. Not least of all, depictions of male sex work in American movies seem to exist in a strangely sanitised universe, and Magic Mike is no exception. In opposition to depictions of female prostitution in Hollywood film, the world of male stripping seems devoid of the industry’s usual pitfalls of ageing, drugs, and organised crime. The film makes a few passing allusions to the latter two, including a rather ham-fisted overdose scene set to the Win-Win song Victim, but overall the male characters are portrayed as a merry band of chirpy and puppyish slackers, pleasant enough company but ultimately disposable. Like so many velcro-fastened trousers, they can be discarded in an instant.
One final note: despite the vast acreage of man-flesh on display throughout the movie, Magic Mike remains oddly prudish when it comes to actual nudity. It’s a strange moment when, following an aggressively pelvic dance routine, the scene demurely fades out on sight of any underwear. Also, in one very bizarre scene, a male member of absurd size is seen in silhouette, at which point the camera cuts to reaction shots of women gasping in an over-the-top, and worryingly non-ironic, fashion. Maybe I’m out of step, but all this struck me as a little matronly for the 21st century. Many recent indications suggest that women are increasingly open about their sexuality, with even pornography (that bastion of male-dominated fantasy) increasingly consumed by couples and women. The world of Magic Mike, in which women go weak at the knees when faced with a naughty fireman or a beefy doctor, seemed rather old-fashioned, and just a little quaint.
Overall, Magic Mike is a solid piece of entertainment with good dancing, a reasonable plot, and a competent central performance. It’s just a shame that when it comes to the emotional side of things, we find little substance beneath the surface. Ultimately, its pecs, abs, and lats may be toned and oiled to perfection, but Magic Mike lacks the one muscle that really counts: a heart.

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