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Magic Mike (15)
Odeon, Holloway
2nd July 2012

★★★☆☆

Steven Soderbergh's latest directorial effort is, at the very least, a wholly muddled affair.

If you've seen any of the posters or trailers, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's primarily a US Full Monty in which a group of good-looking male strippers get into some hilarious scrapes. Sure, it will have some melodrama behind it, but only in the same way we had the Mike Leigh kitchen sink grimness to undercut the silliness of our laid-off ex-steelworkers.

You might also think it's a chick flick to sit alongside Ghost, with the catcalls of the baying crowd easily transferred into the cinema. Or a perfect film for pissed-up pushing-50 primadonnas to leer at, laugh at and then instantly forget.

Well then sit down, because I have a little bit of news...

The titular Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) is a good guy. Sure, he may be a stripper who regularly has threesomes with random women, but that's only because he's a troubed soul waiting for the right woman. Because as well as having a rock-hard bod and impressive skills, what he really wants to do is (and prepare to have your expectations confounded) make bespoke furniture. Yeah, I'll just let that sink in.

Anyway, Rennie Mackintosh Mike is forcibly befriended by loser Adam (Alex Pettyfer) and, being the all-round bro that he is, wangles Adam a job at his club, owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).

What follows is so light on plot I'm surprised it didn't float away, with, variously, Adam becoming seduced with the lifestyle, much to the chagrin of his sister Brooke (Cody Horn), Mike attempting to get into her pants while following his dream and Dallas planning to move the club from Tampa to Miami.

Okay, so maybe in that description I was being a little harsh. The film, co-produced by Tatum himself, borrows heavily from the days he was a stripper and it shows. There's a certain authenticity in the strippers' dialogue and backroom behaviour, even if it is cranked up to 11. And Tatum actually embodies this conflicted, layered character very well, his turn silencing his naysayers - of which I was one.

The supporting cast are pretty solid, Pettyfer a believable fish-out-of-water and later hedonist. Unfortunately, Horn just squints, pouts and scowls through most of her scenes, which leads to a fairly contrived ending. McConaughey as Woody Harrelson as Dallas provides a fair bit of the laughs (albeit because he's maybe getting a bit too old for this act) and does well at representing the morally grey club owner. One disappointment is the jettisoning of most of the other strippers after the first big club scene, as they are by far the most interesting characters of the lot.

But the main problem is that while it's a solid drama, Soderbergh never pulls together the disparate strands of plot and tone together into a cohesive whole. As I said, with all of the nudity, it should be a film for women. But the underlying bromance between Alex and Mike is so strong, it would appeal more to male Judd Apatow fans. There is humour, but again it's destroyed by the crushing bleakness and one horrifically violent scene in particular. In Trainspotting or Shallow Grave, this combination worked well. Here? Not so much.

Production-wise, the cinematography is pretty decent, as is the lighting. Days in sunkissed Florida are so saturated with yellow you'd think the projector was on the blink. Only when nighttime comes, and it's replaced with darkness lit by neon and spotlights is the full vision revealed - and it works. The choreography of the stripping scences (of which there are many) is impressive and seems fairly realistic (I wouldn't know) being ludicrous and showy but expertly performed.

Soderbergh can make great gender-neutral films. Erin Brockovich and Ocean's Eleven are testament to that. Even the erotically-charged Sex, Lies and Videotape could be enjoyed by a man or woman. With Magic Mike, though, the spell has worn off, leaving a confused and odd - if fundamentally solid - piece of cinema.

Magic Mike was released in the UK on 11th July 2012.

Nearest tube station: Holloway Road (Piccadilly)



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