Imagine if The Wrestler had been advertised as if it was essentially a back-street version of the WWE, with blood and barbed wire biting into the teak flesh of Mickey Rourke as he appeared to go through scene after scene of brutal action. It would have wrong-footed audiences and drawn an inappropriate crowd, leading to many confused wrestling fans sitting through a heart-breaking tale of a tragic man struggling interminably with past failures.
This is exactly what happened to Magic Mike, which has been marketed in the run-up to its release as a camp, fun and frisky version of Step Up, the film which helped to propel its star Channing Tatum to his current position as the No. 1 gurning lunk of Hollywood. The trailers and posters completely misrepresent the film. Which is a massive relief, because it’s quietly brilliant.
Magic Mike (Tatum) is a male stripper by night and a roofer/furniture maker/car detailer by day. He recruits the previously directionless Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to join the odd-bod cadre of tanned and waxed performers headed by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) and soon falls for Adam’s straight-laced sister Brooke (Cody Horne).
The promise of a move to the bright lights of Miami from small-time Tampa means that the exotic male dance revue is on the verge of the big time, but Mike really just wants to find funding his other projects and not end up a 40 year old piece of meat earning his keep one dollar bill at a time.
The story in itself is not what saves the film, but it is rather the script and the performances which completely change tact from the neon eroticism implied by the trailers, which is only partly realised in the occasional stripping routines.
The characters feel real. When Mike is flustered, he doesn’t have a clever speech at his disposal. When he is in charm mode, he chats easily to men and women alike. It feels believable and unglamorous, which is at odds with what you might expect.
Taking the naturalistic approach means that there is also plenty of grit and unpleasantness. Sexual freedom is shown to come at the cost of personal relationships, with Olivia Munn’s promiscuous and duplicitous psychology student showing Mike that male egos are as fragile as those of females.
The main issue with the movie is that it feels its 110 minute length at times, while the strength of the character interactions is not met with a particularly compelling dramatic arc. The stakes are never raised enough for the film to descend into something truly seamy, which is a shame as there are hints of deeper depravity lurking in certain scenes that never come to fruition.
If you still don’t fancy going to see Magic Mike at the cinema then one thing which might persuade you change your mind is that it offers the chance to experience a room full of people failing to get what they were expecting from a film. It’s like being at a hen party which is soured by a death in the family.