07/13/2012 11:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Does Magic Mike Have Anything to Stick Himself With?

WARNING: This post contains graphic language. Reader discretion is advised.


Magic Mike: the money shot.

The ani­mated gif above will save you $12 to $14 and 108 min­utes of disappointment.

Yes, I've done my invert duty and been to see Magic Mike, which, accord­ing to The New York Times, gay men are "flock­ing" to see in num­bers not seen since Broke­back Moun­tain. Even if they're not all as jaded as I am, I think they're going to be very dis­ap­pointed. And not because in Magic Mike gay or bisex­ual men don't exist, even as a famously gen­er­ously tip­ping audi­ence for male strip­ping, except as a punch­line. (In one "hilarious" scene Alex Pettyfer's uptight sis­ter thinks for a hairy moment he might be gay because he's shaving his legs. He's not gay. He's just a male strip­per. Phew!) No, the betrayal is much, much worse than any of that. And judg­ing by how quickly the mostly female audi­ence in my cin­ema audi­to­rium stopped gig­gling and hav­ing fun, it's not just the gays who are going to feel betrayed.

Magic Mike just doesn't deliver the goods. The junk stays in the trunks. It's a 110-minute prick-tease with­out any pricks and very lit­tle tease. Most unfor­giv­ably of all, this male strip­per movie -- star­ring Chan­ning Tatum -- wants to be taken seriously. It thinks it has a plot. And the plot is... another fuck­ing Hol­ly­wood moral­ity tale. Will Tatum man­age to escape the sleazy, druggy, boys-together world of male strip­ping and Alex Pettyfer's win­some smile and end up with his judgey, bossy sis­ter, Cody Horn? Who cares? Espe­cially given that there's not nearly enough sleaze on dis­play. I can't remem­ber the last time I was so bored. Oh, yes, I remem­ber now: watch­ing Broke­back Moun­tain.

Fatally, this strip­per movie has no sense of tim­ing, and not just in the lit­er­ally point­less strip rou­tines. Magic Mike suf­fers from per­haps the worst case of pre­ma­ture ejac­u­la­tion in cin­ema his­tory. Two min­utes into the film you get the money shot: two sec­onds of Tatum's smooth bubble-butt in all its firm, bouncy glory head­ing for his en suite in dig­i­tal Panav­i­sion. Which is very nice. But that, as they say, is a wrap.

Except you've got another 108 min­utes to go. Another 108 min­utes in which, as far as I can remem­ber, you never see Tatum's ass prop­erly again, in this movie about male strip­ping and the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the male body. Given that you can see Tatum's bouncy-ass scene for free in a trailer for the movie, it's the con of Cap­tain Amer­ica all over again, but even more of a rip-off -- the wrong kind of rip off.

It goes with­out say­ing that you never even glimpse his cock, floppy or oth­er­wise. Or even a dan­gly bol­lock. It is, after all, Hol­ly­wood, and while Tatum may have worked as a male strip­per in the past and worked that past to get where he is, he is now a Proper Hol­ly­wood Star, and Proper Hol­ly­wood Stars don't show you their cocks. Because that would be low-class. Espe­cially in a move about male stripping. And apart from a glimpse of a cou­ple of sil­hou­ettes of clearly pros­thetic penises, you don't see any­one else's cock, either, floppy or oth­er­wise. Magic Mike is essen­tially a movie about cock­less male strip­pers, about male strip­ping with no strip­ping, which could have been inter­est­ing in an avant-garde, sadis­tic sort of way, but of course it's really not that sort of movie.

Maybe I under­es­ti­mate the direc­tor, Steven Soder­bergh. Maybe he decided to ruin his career by delib­er­ately mak­ing a crowd-pleasing sum­mer movie that didn't please anyone. A more likely expla­na­tion, how­ever, is that Soder­bergh was fran­ti­cally try­ing not to scare straight male punters. And sub­li­mated homo­erotic subplots aside, he does work over­time in this movie to reas­sure us that the male strip­pers are all A) straight, and B) dudes. But if he was pan­der­ing to straight men, he failed there, too. Straight men search online for pictures of (big) dick as much as they do for pussy. They are going to be at least as disappointed as every­one else. Except maybe lesbians.

What's going on here is yet another instance of the puri­tan­ni­cal Amer­i­can Phal­liban at work, pro­tect­ing the sanc­tity and power of the phal­lus by mak­ing sure the cock is never shown in pub­lic. After all, no mat­ter how freak­ish, the cock never lives up to the promise of the phal­lus. As I put it in Male Imper­son­ators back in 1994 (which, let's face it, is really the era when Magic Mike is set):

The myth of male strip­ping mes­merises pre­cisely because it con­tra­dicts itself with every dis­carded item. ... No mat­ter how freak­ish his gen­i­tal attrib­utes, no mat­ter how craftily engorged and arranged with rings and elas­tic bands, no mat­ter how fran­ti­cally it is waved and wag­gled, the stripper's penis, once naked, never lives up to the promise of the phal­lus: the cli­mac­tic finale of the strip is ... an anti-climax.

Fem­i­nin­ity is tra­di­tion­ally seen and rep­re­sented in Hol­ly­wood movies as "mas­quer­ade." The clothes, the hair, the breasts, the heels, the makeup all stand in for the "miss­ing" phal­lus. Masculin­ity, mean­while, is meant to just be there, because men have the phal­lus. Women appear. Men act. Or so the tra­di­tional rea­son­ing went. But Magic Mike, because it's a cock­less movie about male strip­ping, is, inad­ver­tently, a good if bor­ing exam­ple of mas­culin­ity as mas­quer­ade, with thongs and leather and cop uni­forms and oiled, tanned pecs and really bad, unsexy dance rou­tines standing in for the phal­lus. It's a kind of male Show­girls, with­out the camp, or the fun. There's a scene where Tatum is danc­ing dressed in a thong, a SWAT cap, and black webbing ammu­ni­tion pouches over his torso. It looks like a butch basque.

Per­haps because it can't show us dick, and because it's try­ing to reas­sure an imag­ined straight male punter, Magic Mike does though keep ram­ming down our throats that the men have cocks and women don't, and it is mostly unable to nego­ti­ate women's active, assertive sex­u­al­ity, some­thing that the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of cocks so char­ac­ter­is­tic of today's cul­ture is of course based on. By way of a pep talk, Matthew McConaughey, who plays (with real rel­ish) the owner of the male strip club, likes to say to his male dancers, "Who's got the cock? You do. They don't." Or as Tatum, dressed as a cop in the now-famous open­ing scene of the main trailer, says:

Mike: You don't have any­thing sharp on you that I can stick myself with, do you?

Kim: No.

Mike: Good. 'Cause I do! [Rips off pants, women scream.]

But does he? After all, we only have his word for it. And any­way, those words are highly unre­li­able. Don't his words actu­ally tell a dif­fer­ent story to the one the movie is telling us? Don't they say either A) "I have a penis large enough to fuck myself with; please allow me to demonstrate," or B) "Stand back, ladies, and watch me use my night stick on myself"? Sadly, he doesn't do either, of course. That's an entirely dif­fer­ent and much more watch­able movie, one that I sus­pect we might have been able to see if Chan­ning Tatum hadn't had the mis­for­tune to become a Hol­ly­wood star and, instead of being con­demned to the­atri­cal releases on the big screen, had grad­u­ated from strip­ping in South Florida clubs to live shows on our PC screens.