It's maybe time to stop trying to "figure out" Steven Soderbergh's movies. The Academy Award-winning director has made some strange veers over the past few years, and we've spent a lot of time chasing after him, trying to explain away his odd genre tweaks as slight, tossed-off experiments. We were confident that the Traffic director would eventually find his way back to the Serious stuff we know him to be capable of, but that hasn't happened. He's continued down his weird genre rabbit hole and we, or at least some of us, are increasingly reluctant to follow him. The curiously remote Contagion and the chilly, flat Haywire were both such alienating, empty movies that it almost felt like Soderbergh was deliberately pushing us away. His latest feature Magic Mike is a little warmer and more inviting, but like those films it's also a canny feat of technique that otherwise feels mostly bloodless and disconnected.
Were we to play the genre game, Magic Mike would be Soderbergh's protégé movie. The Cocktail, the Coyote Ugly, even the Wall Street. It's a movie about a guy lured into a world of easy money earned by dirty means — it's a morality play posing as something fun and freewheeling. Our setting is Tampa, Florida, which Soderbergh films in blushing, Instagram hues, though we spend most of our time indoors. The story concerns Adam, a 19-year-old slacker dropout, who meets Mike, a 30-ish dude who works construction by day and, much to Adam's initial surprise, strips at an all-male revue by night. Adam is quickly ushered into this world — one that isn't really sexy or seedy — and soon has an ambition and ego to match his broad shoulders and architectural abs. It's a simple story, with Adam getting a bit overzealous and out of control while Mike contemplates closing up shop for good (he wants to own his own furniture making business). There's a happy if ambiguous ending and, yes, there are lots of butts and pecs and thrusts and humps. It is the male stripper movie, after all.