Thursday Movie Club

Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the role he was born to play.

Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the role he was born to play.

I went to the screening of Magic Mike expecting a farcical romp through the sweaty dens of male strip clubs. I thought the sleazy combination of oily torsos and gyrating dance moves would be amusing.

“It was funny” I thought I'd say in the way that men who visit strip clubs on Buck's nights do, “because I watched it ironically.”

Dear reader, I was wrong.

Channing tatum in the new movie <i>Magic Mike</i>

Channing tatum in the new movie Magic Mike

 Magic Mike, the tan, waxed lovechild of Saturday Night Fever and Erin Brockovich is an expertly crafted, dizzying cinematic experience that manages to pull off the impossible: make a flimsy tale compelling – and often hilarious - from the first frame until the last.

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Directed by Steven Soderbergh, (Erin Brockovich) Magic Mike is not a new story. If you’ve seen Boogie Nights, Almost Famous or Wall Street you’re already familiar with the premise: A hungry innocent, (in this case a broke teenager, Adam) makes a deal with the devil that at first he revels in before the dark reality of what he’s entered into hits him like a car crash.

In this innovative script by 29 year-old Reid Carolin, Mike (Channing Tatum) a seasoned exotic dancer, takes Adam, (Alex Pettyfer), a naive 19 year-old with entitlement issues under his wing. It's a relationship not dissimilar to the one between William and Penny Lane in Almost Famous - Adam is a novice, doing anything to get 'inside' the scene, while Mike, despite his obvious talent, has a suspicion a better life awaits.

Tatum, himself a former stripper, carries the film with such sure-footed charisma you'll forget he was ever in movies like The Vow. His dancing is outrageously entertaining. But the most watchable aspect of his character is that he doesn't act like he's The Guy. He doesn't strut unless he's onstage. He behaves like a normal person - in fact they all do.

Well, everyone bar Matthew McConaughey. As Dallas, the founder of the stripper troupe, 'Xquisite', McConaughey positively marinates in the oily role he was born to play, trotting out lines so cheesy you’d swear they were lifted straight from the script of Top Gun. It’s a knowing performance and provides probably 80 per cent of the movie’s comic relief. McConaughey isn’t afraid to flex his creepy, sinister side either, (as the Gordon Gekko of the male stripping world, greed is most definitely good). In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he earns a Golden Globe nomination for his effort.

It’s the dancers who steal the scenes though. Throbbing with the endowment of sexual magnetism but unable to translate such an asset into anything long-lasting offstage, the boys are leading sad double lives. They’re earning hundreds every night, high on the lust of ordinary women (and, often, GHB), yet they still can’t seem to transcend their class. Steven Soderbergh appears to be making an interesting point about America’s social mobility problem, just as he did in Erin Brockovich. And, just like Brockovich Soderbergh explores in Magic Mike the idea of sexuality as a bargaining chip, and the hollow power it transmits if you're unlucky enough to be poor.

But it's Saturday Night Fever that Mike owes the chunk of its debt to: a bunch of testosterone-fuelled, working class men preening like peacocks for one night on the weekend, sadly unaware that in doing so they’re guaranteeing they’ll never properly live for anything else. It’s a lifestyle of diminishing returns, particularly because you can’t pick up chicks or sell sex without youth. And you can’t commodify sex without properly engaging in what therapists like to call ‘dissociation’ first.

Soderbergh shows us some subtle and tragic examples of that dissociation too. It helps that every daytime scene is filtered through a yellowish lens, (again, just like in Brockovich). But in Magic Mike the camera swoops and dips in a disorienting way – the perfect reflection of the dizzying heights and strange, jaundiced reality of the world these men (and women) inhabit.

Like I said, I was ready to laugh and judge, but Soderbergh underpins every scene with a concrete reality. He also makes the bold choice of ensuring that any real sex scene is muted, or off-screen altogether, funnelling our own expectation for titillation toward the stage and upwards, toward the curtain, until we arrive at that moment when the bulging silhouette of Mike appears, perfectly still and ready to perform his uniquely sleazy, beautiful, crass, tacky and altogether mesmerising magic for them, the wild, thirsty ladies -- and for us, the happily converted.

 Magic Mike opens in Australian cinemas today.

Also opening today:

LOL: In a world connected by YouTube, iTunes and Facebook, Lola and her friends navigate the peer pressures of high school romance while dodging their overbearing parents. Stars Demi Moore and Miley Cyrus. Prognosis: terrible.

In Darkness: Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief in Lvov, a Nazi occupied city in Poland, one day encounters a group of Jews trying to escape the liquidation of the ghetto.

In the pipeline:

The trailer for new film Crave debuted at Comic-Con recently. And it's of interest to us as it stars a handful of Australian actors, including Josh Lawson and Emma Lung. Edward Furlong and Sons of Anarchy star Ron Perlman also appear on the cast list.

A new theatrical trailer has been released for the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifinakis comedy The Campaign. It's further proof that most things Will Ferrell says are hilariously funny. It's all in the delivery.

Billy Bob Thornton has a new flick coming out. Jayne Mansfield’s Car  stars  Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Frances O’Connor and Kevin Bacon. The 1960s drama is set in the South and revolves around a family reunited for a funeral.