Magic Mike is a lively surprise. Like Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, and Hal Ashby's 1975 Shampoo, Steven Soderbergh's new film takes us into a barely-known world, and in focusing on one of its denizens—a burnt-out grappler, a soulful hairdresser, or, here, an aging male stripper—clears a new space for the playing out of human dreams and desires.
Channing Tatum, whose matey, self-deprecating manner suggests a younger Brad Pitt, rose up from fashion modeling to do solid genre duty in movies like Dear John, G.I. Joe, and the two Step Up dance films. Here he emerges as a true star with serious intentions. His character, Mike, is an amiable 30-year-old Tampa muscle hunk whose life has yet to start making sense. (Tatum suggested the film to Soderbergh based on his own brief experience as a stripper at the tail end of his teens; his production partner Reid Carolin wrote the script.) Mike sees himself as an entrepreneur: He works a construction job to pay the rent, but runs a little car-detailing business on the side, and dreams of one day launching a custom-furniture company. (Everyone comments on the cool hand-made coffee table in his apartment.) His main gig, though, is dancing at a flashy male strip club called Xquisite, run by a semi-demented hustler named Dallas (a raving Matthew McConaughey—on fire in this movie). Dallas, a onetime stripper himself, is all business ("This is not a joke!"), and he has a keen appreciation of the female customers who pack his club. ("You are the husband they never had," he tells his dancers. "You are the dreamboat that never came along.")
Like the other five guys on the club dance team (among them Matt Bomer, of White Collar, and towering Joe Manganiello, of True Blood), Mike loves this lifestyle—the booming music and onstage energy; the joint-passing backstage camaraderie; the happily drunken bachelorettes out front hooting their appreciation and stuffing the men's thongs with dollar bills. But the all-night after-work bar crawls are starting to get stale, and Mike's plentiful one-night-stands—even the three-ways with his bisexual girl pal Joanna (Olivia Munn, making the most of a good role)—have begun to feel empty. He's hanging on, though, because Dallas—for whom Mike has been a star attraction for the last eight years—has promised him an equity stake in the club when he expands it into Miami. Which'll be…soon.
Shooting the movie himself, as usual, Soderbergh creates wildly exuberant club scenes, with the crotch- pumping dancers whirling across the stage and back-flipping into the squealing crowds to give raunchy close-up attention to the night's lucky birthday girls. The director's imagery radiates heat and good-natured sexiness, and the walloping dance-rock beats keep kicking these scenes up onto new levels of exhilaration. Soderbergh's virtuoso camerawork here, and his rhythmic editing, recall Bob Fosse, who might well have been impressed.
The story develops in a traditional but absorbing way. When a 19-year-old lost soul named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) wanders into Mike's orbit, Mike sees in this drifting kid a younger version of himself. He finds a spot for Adam in the club dance squad (the newcomer is awkward and embarrassed at first, but is quickly hooked by the buzz and the babes), and before long the wily Dallas, looking on appreciatively, realizes he's found a fresh star. At the same time, Mike becomes attracted to Adam's no-nonsense sister, Brooke (Cody Horn, a find—she has the sly, winning primness of a young Frances McDormand). There's a spasm of drug-gang nastiness, and a memorable sex scene that unfolds in a woozy haze. Soderbergh's visual inventions form a compelling narrative of their own (on a budget of just $5-million). We follow Mike to the movie's troubled conclusion, and we want to think he takes it from there.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Here's a cool idea for a movie: Teenage dweeb Peter Parker weathers the taunts and pokes of high-school bullies until one day he's bitten by some kind of magical spider and starts shooting sticky webs out of his hands and scampering up walls and…
Oh, wait—we've already seen this movie. Ten years ago, in Sam Raimi's opening installment of the first Spider-Man series. Which wobbled to an end just five years ago. Do we really need to sit through this story all over again? Sony and Marvel Enterprises are hoping so—they've sunk an estimated $215-million into "rebooting" the familiar superhero saga. If only they'd invested in some new ideas as well.
The movie—which among other things wastes the gifts of Marc Webb, who directed the wonderful, low-budget (500) Days of Summer—is defined by its shortcomings. The first, and most dispiriting, is its star, Andrew Garfield. This young English actor has been precociously resourceful in some very different films—playing a doomed clone in the dystopian Never Let Me Go and the betrayed Facebook cofounder in The Social Network. He was also a powerful presence opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman. Garfield is a meticulously expressive performer, projecting thought and emotion with the subtlest glances and gestures. As Peter Parker, though, he's stranded, bringing his gifts to bear on a character who has practically nothing to express beyond a generalized glumness. This is not much fun to watch.
Then there's the movie's designated villain, Dr. Curt Connors, played by the likable and definitively non-villainous Rhys Ifans. Connors was a research partner of Peter's long-vanished father (the mysterious fate of Peter's parents is the story's one new plot wrinkle). Now, continuing their experiments, Connors screws up and turns himself into the silliest giant CGI lizard since Godzilla (the Roland Emmerich version). This rampaging reptile, definitively non-scary, provides little more than limp comic relief.
Finally, there's Emma Stone, lovable as always, but unable to do much with the role of Peter's love interest, Gwen Stacy. Stone contributes her customary quirky glow, but her character is thoroughly implausible (she's a low-level employee at the high-security biotech company where Connors works, but appears to have the run of the place). And her romantic chemistry with Garfield (even though they've since become a couple) feels oddly pro-forma.
There's more, but I'll not bore you with it. Will The Amazing Spider-Man suck up millions over the long Fourth of July weekend? Sure. So did the goopy Spider-Man 3—even though that film wound up tanking the first Spidey series. For the sake of the lead actors involved, all of whom can find better things to do with their talents, one can't help hoping that this second attempt at a franchise will go no further. As if.