The magical transformation of Channing Tatum

Enjoyable summer flick Magic Mike proves the Hollywood hunk is more than a piece of pumped-up eye candy.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

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Of late, Channing Tatum has done remarkably well to ingratiate himself to a movie-going audience who otherwise considered him another token hunk.

Having made his way with the likes of dance movie Step Up and the reprehensible toy-to-movie adaptation GI Joe, his recent turns have suggested he is more than a piece of pumped-up eye candy. His role in 21 Jump Street flaunted his comedic chops, and now comes Magic Mike, a film that not only stars Tatum, but which was also his brainchild. He conceived the film based on his own experiences working as a male stripper in his late teens.

However, from the outside the film would seem to offer little more than Tatum’s inevitable move into romantic comedy. The trailers, which compiled all the film’s one-liners and had a Rihanna song blasting in the background, marketed the film as a bog-standard courtship between two hideously attractive people who have to muddle their way through some hilarious misunderstandings before ending up in each other’s well-toned arms. The evident misrepresentation of the film lays testament to the scale of Tatum’s change of tack, as this occasionally offbeat and oddly relatable drama stakes new ground for a performer who Hollywood execs seemed to have wanted to keep as a disposable piece of man meat.

Michael ‘Magic Mike’ Lane (Tatum) is someone who describes himself as an entrepreneur/stripper, but over the course of the film is brought to the realisation that perhaps the reverse order of his chosen job title would be more fitting. While by day he manages a construction firm and dreams of setting up his own business building custom furniture, he spends most of his time performing in leather chaps and is consumed by the accompanying lifestyle of sex, drugs and parties with the groupies. As he brings young waster Adam (Alex Pettyfer) into the fold, he finds himself at loggerheads with his protégé’s disapproving and up-tight sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), who Mike inevitably falls for. As he attempts to win her favour, Mike is forced to take a stern look at himself.

Perhaps the most surprising element of the film is its discernible pang of reality. With Steven Soderbergh at the helm, one of the few directors who can foster mainstream appeal while maintaining his auteur status, Magic Mike takes a character whose profession is alien to the majority of us and draws parallels with any job that can hold us back from achieving our ambitions. In place of the presumed zingy dialogue, the script is a touch more naturalistic, full of awkward silences and stuttered sentences. Tatum comes across as far more genuine then one would expect. Indeed, in portraying a long-in-the-tooth 30-year-old stripper, Tatum is playing a character who could well have been himself had his life gone down a different road. His sincerity in the role may well stem from his recognition of this.

Although the film makes some welcome and often effective stabs at realism, its core appeal is the spectacle of the strip performances themselves. Certainly while Soderbergh’s attentive capturing of the elaborate shows may confirm for some that this is little more than a film fit for watching during the early stages of a hen night, they are, in truth, needful indulgences that even out the film’s more moralistic impulses. Aside from that, they’re also very enjoyable, even for those who don’t find a thong-wearing troupe of buff young men the least bit enticing. The sheer scale of them alongside the flamboyant antics of the club’s owner and Dallas, played by a hilarious Matthew McConaughey, make these scenes wildly entertaining. (I’m not just saying that to justify my own enjoyment, honest.)

Of course, beneath all of the glistening torsos is a generic good-woman-saves-wayward-man story arc which despite being engagingly done eventually runs out of steam. But with bags of charm, Magic Mike just about pulls it off, giving its star a new lease on life – and us an eminently watchable summer flick.

Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.

See the trailer for Magic Mike:

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