Despite Channing Tatum’s dancing and Steven Soderbergh’s skills, Magic Mike (2012) is a flabby movie. It has none of Soderbergh’s typical narrative pacing or visual style. Soderbergh seems to be coasting: establishing we’re in Tampa by showing boats and bays and patio furniture through car windows. He shoots the drug-addled sex scene in cliched slow mo, with hazy, off-center shots, and shifts between black and white and color. The dialogue too often seems improvised, as in the scene below that goes on too long and can be anticipated by any viewer long before Adam (Alex Pettyfer) gets the point.
Other critics have written that the film sags between dance sequences and indeed it does seem to exist to string those together. But the material doesn’t have to be weak. A better script could have made more drama out of Mike’s (Channing Tatum) dreams, or between the unsettling varieties of self esteem that come from being a sex object. There is an effective scene at the end in which Adam, the newest stripper at Magic Mike’s club, thanks Mike for making his dreams come true: three months ago he was nothing, he says, but now he’s got money and women and confidence. It’s a subtle moment and Tatum does a good job of communicating Mike’s slow realization of how he too was once that kid and how he led him(self) away from bigger goals. The film is never condescending toward the strippers’ world, which does give these men something valuable and isn’t simply a station on the way to bottoming out. It’s something to see sex and the sex industry treated both playfully and respectfully, but to really do justice to this complicated material they should have worked harder to make a better movie.