'Magic Mike': What the Critics are Saying

7:06 AM PST 06/29/2012 by Erin Carlson
Warner Bros. Pictures

Critics are (mostly) raving about the Steven Soderbergh-directed stripper dramedy, which avoids becoming an all male "Showgirls."

Magic Mike opens Friday with Channing Tatum as the titular stripper-protaganist, leading an all-male dance revue alongside Matthew McConaughey and Joe Manganiello in the Steven Soderbergh-directed film.

As theatergoers make plans to see the movie in groups (consider this an "event" in the same pantheon as the Sex and the City films), there is an excitement and buzz usually reserved for fanboy-endorsed superhero stock like The Avengers; meanwhile, the critical reviews have rolled in, and they're largely positive. (See: Rotten Tomatoes' 82 percent "fresh" rating.)

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THR's David Rooney called Magic Mike a "beefcake bonanza with heart as well as muscle," and "arguably the raunchiest, funniest and most enjoyably nonjudgmental American movie about selling sex since Boogie Nights."

Although you'd be forgiven for expecting such a film would be all brawn and no substance, Soderbergh brings it down to earth with a realistic approach amid all the Chippendale's-style dancing and a serious narrative involving a novice stripper (Alex Pettyfer) who descends into a drug-fueled downward spiral.

"While this plotline echoes countless perils-of-success movies and easily could have become a male Showgirls, Soderbergh shrewdly avoids letting it turn lurid or campy by underplaying the melodrama," says Rooney.

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"Instead, he observes droll but humanizing details, like a quick shot of Mike patiently ironing out crumpled dollar bills retrieved from his underwear. The humor is refreshingly low-key and unforced, such as having True Blood hunk Manganiello, who’s built like Iron Man, be the delicate one of the troupe, fretting over herpes or throwing his back out while giving a zaftig customer an airborne thrill."

In his review, NPR's Ian Buckwalter lauds Magic Mike's mix of artiness and entertainment, writing that "the film's portrait of self-delusion and gradual awakening makes for compelling viewing, even if it's eventually somewhat undercut by a pop-romance ending that seems undeservedly tidy."

He adds: "Soderbergh may bow to the entertainer side of his split filmmaking personality in that moment -- but then again, if you can't send your audience home with a smile in a film that features a group of half-naked dudes using umbrellas as blatant phallic symbols during a performance of 'It's Raining Men,' you're probably doing something wrong."

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But according to Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, noting Soderbergh's obsession with superficiality (and what lurks underneath), Magic Mike "is a more abstract and self-consciously artistic view of the male-stripper subculture than the marketing campaign suggests, and opening-weekend audiences eager for cheerful nastiness may find themselves baffled."

Calling Soderbergh, whose credits include the drug-trade drama Traffic and the Ocean's heist movies, "the most devoted anti-capitalist in American cinema," O'Hehir thinks Magic Mike is one of the auteur's best recent efforts. "But it isn’t quite as much randy, escapist fun as it looks like on the surface. That’s because Soderbergh fears there is no escape for Magic Mike, or any of us, from the permanent Tampa strip club of the mind, where we sit inhaling Buffalo wings and making it rain all over the latest naked offering," he writes.

Echoes Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, giving Magic Mike a lackluster two stars out of five, "the film develops a virtuous squint that starts tsk-tsking everything that was first shown as a fleshy amusement park. It turns out that the sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle is really bad for these guys, especially The Kid. Magic Mike slowly degenerates into a simplistic cautionary fable. I didn't see that coming from a sharp observer like Soderbergh."

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