June 27, 2012

Magic Mike

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Magic Mike

DRAMA:

United States, 2012

U.S. Release Date:

2012-06-29

Running Length:

1:50

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Content, Drugs)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn

Director:

Steven Soderbergh

Screenplay:

Reid Carolin

Cinematography:

Steven Soderbergh

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


If your expectations for Magic Mike have been formed by the trailers and the TV ads, you can be forgiven for anticipating a male version of Showgirls or Coyote Ugly. Keep in mind, however, that the director is Steven Soderbergh, not Paul Verhoeven, and neither Joe Eszterhas nor Jerry Bruckheimer has gotten his fingerprints on this. Magic Mike takes itself seriously - not so seriously that there isn't room for a little humor, but this is not an excursion into cheesiness and gratuitous nudity. Soderbergh wants us to relate to the character of Mike (Channing Tatum) and, in order for that to happen, he develops an earnest narrative about a profession that is rife with campiness and clichés.

Most stripper movies are about women and the lion's share follow one of two formulas: the good girl gone bad or the bad girl who wants to go good. The only other recent male stripper film I can remember is The Full Monty and it is so different from Magic Mike that comparisons are pointless. This movie neither lionizes nor demonizes male dancing. It attempts an evenhanded approach, perhaps because lead actor Channing Tatum's real-life experiences were used in developing the story. Magic Mike offers the three reasons why some young men are drawn to stripping: women, money, and a good time. It also shows the downside, which begins with drugs and ends with exhaustion and depression.

Magic Mike is an allegory and its appeal lies in part in its message. You don't have to be a stripper to recognize what the filmmakers are saying. When it comes to choosing a career path, most people elect the road to lucre rather than the route to satisfaction and fulfillment. At first, the tangible benefits outweigh the soul-sucking negatives but, over time, it can be difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for a job that is held purely for its paycheck. Movies love to tell the story of a character who follows his dream. Magic Mike is a little different; it's not so much about following the dream as it is about developing the courage to turn away from the money and look in another direction. That makes for a satisfying ending because it isn't so unbelievably optimistic as to be saccharine.

Magic Mike tells of the rise of newcomer Adam (Alex Pettyfer) in the stripping business. A down-on-his-luck 19-year old, he comes to Tampa to live with his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), and meets "Magic" Mike at a construction site. He tags along with the good-natured, good-looking 30-year old to the club where he takes it all off for tips. The club's owner, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), sees "something" in Adam and gives him a shot. After a briefly shaky beginning, he's soon dazzling audiences. Meanwhile, his "big brother," Mike, is becoming disillusioned about the stagnation of his life, especially when he realizes a relationship with Brooke is impossible as long as he continues on the stage.

The choreography in Magic Mike is surprisingly complex and the dance routines are lively and engaging in their own right, capturing as they do some of the energy that makes clubs like this popular. Soderbergh, who wears the cinematographer's cap in addition to sitting in the director's chair (as is always the case), brings as much verisimilitude to this location as any recent filmmaker has, although there may be a little white-washing in order to get the R-rating. (Showgirls, it should be remembered, had an NC-17.) The nudity in the dances is surprisingly tame (butt shots only - no "full Fassbender"). Overall, Magic Mike is an equal opportunity offender when it comes to flesh. Naked men and women get about the same amount of screen time, and Channing Tatum's fans get an eyeful.

This is the first film in some time to give Tatum an opportunity to display his dramatic capabilities and spending so much time in unimaginative mainstream fare has not blunted his talent. His rhythm and athleticism help to make him a very convincing Magic Mike. (Not surprising, since there's an autobiographical aspect to the character.) Alex Pettyfer is not as convincing, but he's more than balanced out by a hyperkinetic Matthew McConaughey, who literally spits fire and throws himself into the part with a passion we have rarely seen from the often laid-back performer. I don’t know if this the best performance McConaughey has given but it's certainly his most memorable one. Cody Horn does some interesting things with her "love interest" part; I don't know whether it's her style or the way Soderbergh directs her, but she comes across as unpolished, as if she's improvising every line.

From time-to-time, Soderbergh seems to forget that he's making a mainstream movie, not an art house film. He uses some inventive shots (such as one that's taken from directly behind the rear windshield of a moving car), which is fine. He also employs a filter that makes the film look like it was shot through sunglasses, which isn't as appealing. When it comes to two more important elements - emotion and energy - he's on the mark. Magic Mike gets the tone right. It's not too serious but it respects the characters and their situations. The storyline is derivative but there's enough to like about Magic Mike to make that more of a minor irritant than a major distraction.

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