Summer steamrollers like The Avengers sometimes feel like cinematic beat-downs. Good or bad, the mechanics of these big brawls can be numbingly repetitious. Their vulnerable manflesh stuffed into kid costumes and muscle suits, superheroes battle one another bloodlessly, bumping and grinding in the service of saving the eternally imperiled world. Borrrrr-ing! For an antidote and a really good time, go see Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s funny, exhilarating, down-and-dirty celebration of a different breed of costumed superstud — and a much earthier brand of bumping and grinding.
Soderbergh’s footloose movie about Tampa hunks who strip for a living is no Nashville, but this director shares Robert Altman’s eagle eye for the idiosyncrasies of folks who populate a showbiz subculture, as well as his ability to riff on rhythms of half-heard, possibly improvised conversation among guys who share a trade, however infra dig. Drawn from Channing Tatum’s own stint as a stripper back in the day, the script — by first-timer Reid Carolin, the actor’s producing partner — doesn’t aim for big narrative fireworks. The story flows the way life does when you mostly live at night: working up a head of steam onstage, stoned, sleeping around with strangers, your days slipping by in a hangover haze.
The movie’s mornings-after and afternoon delights are drenched in bruised, golden-dirty Florida sunshine. That exquisitely decaying light can wear its denizens down, but it’s also energizing, a real turn-on. Magic Mike catches that alternating beat in hot bursts of physicality and dreamy, drug-fueled languors. A slow-simmering love affair between Tatum and quirky charmer Jody Horn warms up during walks in the sun. As disengaged as a pleasant, vagrant breeze, Soderbergh’s camera drifts around their conversations: casual, intermittent, sometimes inaudible, punctuated by laughter. Nothing’s nailed down in Tampa’s fluid light; Soderbergh’s taking moving pictures of the flux and flow of human experience. (The director shot and edited, under his usual aliases.)