Magic Mike Review By Adam
Magic Mike is a bizarre film. I never imagined that I would see The Full Monty re-envisioned by the Oscar winning director of Erin Brokovich and Traffic. But yup, here you have it: Steven Soderberg has created his stripping opus. Magic Mike is funny, non-judgemental and, overall, Soderberg’s best film in many a moon. But it still has that detached, miscalculated ‘realism’ (read: improv) that has acted like concrete boots on Soderbergh’s last couple of films.
Magic Mike follows the day to day grind (pun intended) of Mike (Channing Tatum), a 30-year old stripper/construction worker/entrepreneur who will do (almost) anything for a buck. Every cent that Mike doesn’t spend on shots or g-strings goes to his ‘clean start’ future: a custom furniture business (don’t ask, it doesn’t make sense to me either). Mike’s regimented world gets shaken up when he meets the young and impressionable Adam (Alex Pettyfer) on a building site. Mike indoctrinates Adam into the lucrative world of male stripping and christens him ‘The Kid’. Adam’s enthusiasm initially revitalises Mike, but it comes at a cost – Adam thinks that he is bulletproof. While Mike tries to steer ‘The Kid’ in the right direction, he finds himself attracted to Adam’s straight-laced sister Brooke. But can a guy who wakes up with a different girl every night suddenly go straight?
Magic Mike is a semi-autobiographical take on star Channing Tatum’s experience as a 19-year old stripper in Tampa, Florida. This continues a recent trend of director Steven Soderbergh being interested in the celebrities of subcultures and crafting films around them. First he made The Girlfriend Experience, a film about a call girl that starred real-life pornstar Sasha Grey. He soon followed it with Haywire, an action film that showcased the fearsome talents of cage fighter Gina Carrano. With these films it seems that Soderbergh is far more interested in his subject’s skill sets than their acting range. Fortunately for Soderbergh, this choice works in Magic Mike: the film’s strongest, most potent moments are when Channing Tatum is unleashed on the stage.
There has been some serious debate as to whether Mr Tatum can act at all. Until recently, I was a flat-out hater: I hated his face, his voice and the shit films he starred in. I would later come to realise (after watching 21 Jump Street) that what I really hated about Tatum was his mis-casting. Tatum is a funny, charismatic performer, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the dour, weepy dramas that he has starred in. Tatum was constantly in over his depth, and it pissed me off that audiences (made up of females) would flock to see his subpar work, because, you know, he’s hot. Magic Mike finds Tatum playing mostly to his strengths: he is consistently funny in this film and his dance work is jaw-droppingly impressive, but when he has to improvise — especially in emotive scenes — he fumbles. With a more polished script and some confident direction, this could have been a classic role. But with a bunch of half-baked, mumbly scenes of ‘realism’ weighing him down, it’s hard for the dude to soar.
Alex Pettyfer is great as Adam. Much has been made of Pettyfer’s behaviour off the screen – basically, it would seem, he is an arsehole. But Pettyfer has a cockiness and assuredness that can’t be faked, and he uses it to his advantage in Magic Mike. You completely believe the behavioural shift the minute Adam is christened ‘The Kid’ – Pettyfer is into this role. Cody Horn doesn’t fare nearly as well as the love interest, Brooke. I can’t imagine an aloof, no-nonsense girl appealing to Mike in the slightest. This guy (literally) has girls throwing themselves at him every night. It could be a case of wanting what you can’t have, but I would have liked for Horn to demonstrate that Brooke has something that separates her from the competition, and a few mumbly scenes of her being sullen doesn’t cut it. It feels as though Brooke is a cipher for the audience: she placates average women into thinking Mike could fall for them. No, not buying it. Though I did dig the scene where she has her mind blown watching Mike do his thing – you can’t fake a reaction like that.
With one glaring exception, the rest of the cast of Magic Mike is a true ensemble. Each character — from Tarzan (Kevin Nash) to Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) — gets a little moment to shine (or extend their manhood in a pump) and Soderbergh has populated this film with a veritable who’s who of Hollywood hardbodies. While undeniably cast for their physical forms, each of these guys brings an easy charm to their roles. This brings me to the elephant in the room: Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey is force of nature in this film. As club owner Dallas, he is all swagger. Except for Mr Cruise’s turn in Rock Of Ages, I can’t think of another star having so much fun sending up their image. He breathes fire, plays bongos and, when needed, brings out the chapless leathers. I must note that McConaughey is ripped-to-shit in this film; I don’t know many 42-year olds that can see their own toes, let alone possess a glimmering eight-pack. So, good on you, Matt (and your low carb diet).
While everyone on screen is having a good time, things behind the scenes are a bit iffy. If his recent work is any indication, it would appear that Soderbergh is repulsed by the idea of having a fully working, narrative screenplay. His last few films have felt improvised to a fault. Lately, you can distinguish a Steven Soderbergh film instantly: if it is littered with stars, exquisitely shot and has completely stilted dialogue, it belongs to Soderbergh. If Soderbergh wants to create a ‘natural world’ in his films, he needs to bridge the gap between his visual sense and the dialogue in his work, because, right now, it is the opposite – his films are jarringly false. It may be interesting for a film nerd to watch, but the average cinema-goer will be scratching their head when the beautifully shot movie they are watching contains flat-out awkward, amateurish exchanges.
I’d imagine that 90% of people going to see this film don’t give a shit about Soderbergh’s oeuvre in any way – they came for ass. In this regard, Magic Mike is a knockout. The stripping scenes are energetic marvels (plus, flat-out hilarious) and when the boys hit the stage this film comes to life. There is a reason why this film has made over $100 million on its $7 million budget: sex sells. Matter of fact, I can hear the registers ringing right now.