For a star who was once arrested for naked bongo-playing, a bongo-playing male stripper might seem a role to avoid. Yet for Matthew McConaughey, signing up to play strip-club owner Dallas Rising, self-crowned overlord of “the cock-rocking kings of Tampa”, could be the best decision he’s made in years.
At first glance, Magic Mike is all about Channing Tatum. He’s playing the title role, it’s his youth the film is (loosely) based on and it’s him who’s front and centre during its multiple pec-popping dance routines.
The revelation, though, is undoubtedly McConaughey. The man has been on quite a roll of late, with Killer Joe and the Cannes-showcased Mud and The Paperboy.
Yet his latest incarnation is in another league: a charismatic, conniving and seductive alpha male whose words of wisdom (“The moon is just a chip shot away!”) and rallying cries (“Who’s got the cock? You do, they don’t!”) could do for his standing what Magnolia’s Frank T.J. Mackey did for the Cruiser’s.
The P.T. Anderson comparison has traction, Steven Soderbergh having seemingly scoured Boogie Nights for tips on how to present his movie’s gaudy theatrics and ’70s vibe.
It’s there too in the later scenes of coke-snorting abandon, the flame to which Alex Pettyfer’s gauche young moth – plucked off Tatum’s construction crew to plug a hole in McConaughey’s line-up – is inexorably drawn.
The British actor’s speedy progression from naïf to stud to addict is the least plausible aspect in a film somewhat hobbled by its telescoped, single-summer time frame. Yet he still convinces as an opportunistic chancer in a performance that goes some way to atoning for the aptly titled Beastly.
Tatum, of course, has his own baggage: Step Up, G.I. Joe, Dear John… Magic Mike, though, is more on a measure with Fighting and A Guide To Recognising Your Saints: raw, edgy tales of young men struggling to find a place to belong in America’s socalled classless society.
Tatum’s Mike is a Del-Boy in denial: a ducker and diver whose businesses (‘Mike’s Mobile Detailing’, ‘Mike’s Custom Furniture Concepts’) are the fig-leaf to the reality that his true talent lies in ripping his clothes off to music.
For all its social insightfulness, this isn’t an indie movie in the minor-key, inward-looking sense; Soderbergh’s out to give audiences a good time, and he succeeds. Its trajectory may be predictable, but that doesn’t stop Magic Mike being the best movie about dudes disrobing since Brokeback Mountain.
Soderbergh lets his hair down with a frank, funny dramedy that bulges with humour, heart and smarts as McConaughey gives it everything he’s got, in a potentially gong-grabbing turn.