Magic Mike B+
Raunchy but not sleazy, campy but still tasty, and, above all, extremely likeable, “Magic Mike,” an inside look at the subculture of male strippers, finds prolific director Steven Soderbergh in top form, imbuing the conventional, borderline trashy melodrama with energetic helming and the right visual strategy.
End result is one of Soderbergh’s most enjoyable and coherent works in a decade or so. The sharply intelligent Soderbergh, who hops from genre to genre, knows that the material is not too deep, and as such, it doesn’t call for his more characteristic cerebral and high-minded approach.
World-premiering as the closing night of the 2012 L.A. Film Fest, “Magic Mike” will be released by Warner June 29, as counter-programming to this summer’s top guns, the sepcial effects blockbusters and loud, aggressive spectacles targeted at young male viewers.
In contrast, “Magic Mike” aims at mature spectators, likely to be dominated by women of all ages as well as gay viewers. Male stripping has been prevalent in both gay and straight milieus for at least two decades or so, and I am surprised that no one has thought of making a commercial feature out of this phenomenon.
In many ways, “Magic Mike” is the opposite from Soderbergh’s previous movie, “Contagion,” a timely, serious issue film that unfolded as a semi-documentary procedural, but lacked any emotional hooks or relatable characters for the audience to get involved with. We respected and appreciated “Contaigon,” but we did not like it much, because it left us cold (we were not even alarmed or provoked by its problem).
Inevitable comparisons will be made with “Boogie Nights,” arguably one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s two masterpieces (the other being “There Will be Blood”), which documented the world of porn in Los Aangeles in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before the VCR Revolution.
The tale is very well served by its star, Channing Tatum, who provided the idea, based on his stint as a male stripper before he became a professional actor, and who also served as one of the movie’s producers.
As a screen hero, Mike is a brother (soul mate) to such likeable movie characters as John Travolta’s Tony Mannero in the iconic “Saturday Night Fever,” about the glitzy disco era, and Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk, the protagonist of the aforementioned “Boogie Nights.”
The workable (but no more) scenario centers on Mike (Tatum) a bright but formally uneducated entrepreneur, determined to have his place in the American dream. A working class lad, of many skills and talents but not a single one that could lift him out of his socio-economic position. He (and those around him) is aware of his good looks, sexy body, and abundant char, all assets in moving up the ladder. In his ambition for upward mobility, Mike, who is based in Florida’s Tampa Beach, spends his days in various manual jobs, roofing houses, detailing cars, and even designing furniture.
But he really lives for and thrives at night, when he functions as the hot headliner in an all-male revue. A local celeb with the ladies, Magic Mike has been rocking the stage at Club Xquisite with his personal style and raunchy, over-the-top dance moves.
The more the ladies love him, the more they spend, and the happier that makes club owner, slightly the older but still gorgeously appealing Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, in another impressive supporting role).
The second reel develops the notions of brotherhood and male bonding. Seeing potential in a guy he calls the Kid (Alex Pettyfer, for once cast in a suitable part), Mike takes the 19-year-old under his wing and schools him in the art and commerce of dancing, partying, courting women, and making what seems to be easy money. It’s not long before the club’s newest act has fans of his own, as the summer opens up to a world of fun, friendship and good times.
Adam, known as the Kid, who is 19, represents the more youthful point of view of Mike, the 30-year-old mentor. They are both contrasted with the fortysomething Dallas, the savvy stripper-turned-manager. Dallas, who discovered Mike six years earlier dancing with friends, invited him to hone his natural skills in a more professional mode.
Primarily a shrewd businessman, Dallas, just like Burt Reynolds in “Boogie Nights,” is coldly calculated, always on the lookout for the “Next Big Thing” (both literally and figuratively, as size matters in this occupation). But when Mike spots Adam, he offers the eager young recruit the chance to make some fast cash and find his bearings. In the process, the Kid offers the audience access into the glamorous lifestyle of the self-proclaimed Kings of Tampa.
The saga’s less successful but necessary elements deal with the courtship and romance between Mike and Brooke (Cody Horn), the Kid’s appealing sister. There’s some tension and ambiguity, as it’s not clear to what extent Brooke is willing to accept his (and her brother’s) lifestyle.
As written by Reid Carolin, the last reel of “Magic Mike” goes through familiar notions and morality lessons, until it reaches a more or less satisfying, if predictable ending.
Channing is charming and very photogenic, but at this juncture, not a particularly good actor; he’s too stiff and inexpressive in his emotional scenes. However, well cast, Channing gives a creditable performance as a Jack of all trades, a simple, honest, energetic, resourceful guy who believes the key to success is having many irons in the fire.
But really, the movie is not about plot or characters but about ambience and mood. The main pleasure in viewing “Magic Mike” derives from the erotic and seemingly glamorous milieu and the sexy production numbers (and in many ways, the feature is a musical). As such, it’s likely to appeal to women of all ages, as well as some gay men.
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