Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
This film's concerns and dynamics are established by its first two scenes. In front of a sea of rambunctious female patrons, magnetic nightclub proprietor and master of ceremonies Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, deconstructing his established image and delivering a brave, at times sinister performance which might be his best ever) informs the crowd which parts of the dancers they can and cannot touch. Turning the instructions into a teasing introduction to the night's entertainment, he grasps each prohibited place, then wags his finger and says, "no, no no."
Just as this intense scene catches fire, however, the film cuts to the next morning. An exhausted man (Channing Tatum) emerges from a bed with two women in it. He can't remember one of their names. This is the title character, a star performer at Dallas' club who is known as Michael Lane during the daytime. He leaves for one of his several jobs. Today it is a 20-dollars-an-hour construction gig. Nonunion, he is paid under the table. He has saved $13,000 in hopes of owning and operating a small custom-furniture business, but an inferior credit score stands in the way.
The first scene has a nocturnal and stylish color palette, while the second is tinted a bright, almost unpleasant orange which does not complement the human complexion. The place is western Florida. There is a sense of two worlds, and the film focuses on characters who move between them, forced to contend with the thin line between fantasies and delusions, bold promises and the ultimate truth.
In the trailer and television spots, the studio has sold this film as a light, over-the-top camp sex romp, a pop gift to groups of female and homosexual moviegoers. These advertisements are not deceptive, but they are limited, hiding the fact this is also a poignant and rich investigation of modern economic unrest and the behind-the-scenes relationships formed and training undergone in the name of memorable nights of erotic stage entertainment.
The advertising never mentions the important fact this is the new film by Steven Soderbergh, the icon of American independent and popular cinema known best for such films as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, and last year's Contagion.
In its formal elegance, verisimilitude, and examination of people who earn their living reflecting and realizing the sexual desires of others without forming actual relationships, the film often resembles The Girlfriend Experience, his intimate exploration of a few days in the life an elite Manhattan escort, except this is relaxed and sympathetic where The Girlfriend Experience is ice cold, political, and urbane.
The dance sequences, including a trench coat spectacular set to "It's Raining Men," are crisp and exciting, so moviegoers there just to see the almost-bare-bodied macho-man ensemble cast, which also includes True Blood's Joe Manganiello and, as an aging performer with no other prospects, WWE superstar Kevin Nash, spin and thrust will not leave unsatisfied. These sequences, with their outlandish props and earnest stagecraft, have an open-minded, unpretentious atmosphere and include several of the film's most amusing moments.
It is also refreshing and surprising to see Tatum, who grows more charismatic and engaging with each project, find a nuanced dramatic role which also utilizes the incredible physical abilities last seen in Step Up.