Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Movie Review: Magic Mike

Magic Mike
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.
Written by: Reid Carolin.
Starring: Channing Tatum (Magic Mike), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas), Alex Pettyfer (Adam), Cody Horn (Brooke), Olivia Munn (Joanna), Joe Manganiello (Big Dick Richie), Matt Bomer (Ken), Adam Rodriguez (Tito), Kevin Nash (Tarzan), Gabriel Iglesias (Tobias)

Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike has been sold as a fun ride – kind of a bachelorette party of a movie. While I doubt that many women going to see the movie for the prospect of scantily clad, hot men dancing around will be disappointed by it – Magic Mike goes far beyond what the trailers are promising. The film reminded me of one of Soderbergh’s lesser seen efforts – The Girlfriend Experience – starring real life porn star Sasha Grey as a high class prostitute. Both films look at the sex industry more as a business than a source for titillation – but for what it is, a business. There is still a lot of fun to be had in the movie, and it is an interesting character study and romance as well.

The movie stars Channing Tatum, drawing from his own experience as a male stripper years ago, as Magic Mike. Mike sees himself as an entrepreneur – he runs a mobile car detailing business, along with a roofing business, and on weekends, works for Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) as a male stripper, out of a bar that Dallas rents out. Dallas has big plans – he’s going to raise enough money to open a real strip club, so they can get out of the low rent Tampa, and move to the more upscale Miami. Magic Mike is his biggest draw – and he is offering him equity in the new club. Mike does all of this because he has a bigger dream – to design costume furniture. Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19 year old kid, recently thrown out of college because of his problems with authority, and brings him along to the club one day – where he becomes a hit. Dallas now has another star. There nights are a blur of partying, alcohol and sex – an atmosphere that Dallas encourages. Mike tries to keep things in context – something Adam cannot do, much of the chagrin of his worrying sister Brooke (Cody Horn) – who is also drawn to Mike.

You have to give Soderbergh a lot of credit for this movie – he sticks by his instincts all the way through. Soderbergh, who was recently fired from two movies (Moneyball and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) because his style clashed with what the producers wanted. While it would be easy for him to make something shallow and breezy – a sure fire audience hit (he’s done it enough in the past), Magic Mike keeps his stylistic tics, that I personally love, but has turned off some viewers from his movies. Although this is a movie that takes place in flashy clubs and on the beach, and for the first half of the movie seems like one big, long party, Soderbergh shoots the movie mainly in a dark, sepia-tone, suggesting the darkness to come in the story. Like Boogie Nights, this is a movie set in the sex industry where everything is fun and games, right up until it isn’t. It’s great to have fun when money is being made – but when something threatens that money, the fun is over.

The heart of this angle of the movie, as the sex industry as a real industry, is seen through Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Dallas – which (and I cannot believe I’m saying this) deserves consideration for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. I have often accused McConaughey’s persona, cultivated through countless, awful romantic comedies, as being shallow, and superficial. McConaughey’s performance here plays off that image brilliantly. When we first meet his Dallas, it seems like it’s going to be another of those McConaughey performance where he coasts by on his easy charm, with that slow, sexy Southern drawl of his. But watch the scene where Mike challenges him on what his equity share in the new club will be – and see how instantly Dallas changes, and that darkness comes out. He is really little more than a pimp – exploiting his “employees” for their bodies, and who will instantly discard when they lose their value (see his final scene in the movie for how quickly he can change gears in this regard). McConaughey’s performance here suggests what I have long said about him – that what he shows to the world is nothing more than a mask. He wants his “boys” to have a good time – to get drunk, get high and sleep with as many women as they can. That keeps that happy, which keeps them docile. But don’t cross him.

Channing Tatum is also wonderful in the title role. He`s having a great year so far, having a hit in the romantic drama The Vow (which remains unseen by me), and an even bigger hit with 21 Jump Street – where he proved himself to be a gifted comedic actor. Now comes the best work of his career as Magic Mike. You get the since that he was once `The Kid`, and like Adam, he bought into the whole lifestyle – and enjoyed it. But sooner or later, he realizes the emptiness of it all – and this is where the two main female roles come in. First, there is the small role played by Olivia Munn, a psychology student, who uses Mike for sex, but who Mike thinks there may be something more there. Munn eventually teaches Mike a hard lesson on how he is perceived by women. Then there is newcomer Cody Horn, as Adam`s sister, who likes Mike, but wishes he was more normal. The two have an easy chemistry together, and Horn is quite good in the role, even though it is a fairly standard one – as ``The Girl` who finally makes the hero see the light.

If all of this makes Magic Mike sound like a serious movie, it is because Magic Mike is a serious movie. Yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of fun along the way – and yes, to the women who want to see Tatum and the other hot male dancers prance around the stage in next to nothing, you will not be disappointed. The dances are actually quite well choreographed and danced by the stars –who are not interchangeable hard bodies, but whose personality comes out during those dances. Unlike the female strippers I have seen in the movies, there really does seem to be a lot of thought that goes into these dances – there are more about seduction than nudity. If the movie had just been about the stripping, it may well have been a guilty pleasure for women and not much more. But it`s because Soderbergh and company take it so seriously that makes it one of the best Hollywood films of the summer so far.

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