There are few directors who can entertain me - a solidly heterosexual male - with a film about male strippers with impossible abs, toothy grins, and buns of steel. Wait. Now that I think about it, there’s only one. His name is Steven Soderbergh. With nearly thirty films to his credit, Soderbergh continues to be a revelation to me. He works quick; he works diligent. He shoots – admittedly so – every film as if it was still 1971 (perfect!) and, occasionally, gets fired (see Moneyball). He doesn’t back down from his vision (as he is his own cinematographer) and weighs the success of his pictures through establishing the storybook camaraderie usually reserved for a Robert Altman movie.
You put Magic Mike in the hands of any other director and it would be exactly what Warner Bros. probably wanted when Tatum first brought the idea to them: an exuberant and flashy film full of polished musical numbers where the male dancers see themselves on a famously bigger stage (Broadway or Vegas) and dance for some worthwhile cause like Earth Day or a dying mother or what have you. With Soderbergh behind the lens though you get – and there’s simply no other way to say this – the shitty, low-causing hard earned blues that fuels these men to do what they do in a setting that doesn’t totally disprove the theory that hope floats.
Magic Mike, looking past the club and the movie’s star attraction, is gritty and raw through and through. Full of raging performances from Channing Tatum (at long last!), Matthew McConaughey (a feisty megalomaniac), and a promising low-key revelation from actress Cody Horn, Magic Mike doesn’t solely go for the flash (and flesh) of assless chaps and, eventually (almost unapologetically) wears its heart on its sleeve. It won’t leave audiences disappointed. It might; however, catch them off-guard. Call it the Boogie Nights of the male strip club scene.
Magic Mike, written by screenwriter/producer Reid Carolin, shows us male strippers as they prep and as they primp; takes us on the stage as they dance and gyrate in and out of their uniforms and their undies. Yet, it’s what happens on a daily level outside of the club where the story develops. Deeper still, the authenticity of the picture is so compelling that one notices the earnestness of the performers. These are folks in search of something outside of themselves. Maybe it’s a moral compass they search for. Maybe it’s a better way of life. Maybe it’s just the next high.
For Mike (Tatum) – club Xquisite’s main attraction – it’s in creating designer furniture. As the film opens, it certainly feels and looks like he has quite the life. He routinely hooks up with a bi-sexual hottie (Olivia Munn) for steady threesomes, has a steady job on a construction site, and just oozes charisma solely as a fly-on-the-wall in other nightclubs as he promotes Xquisite. Yet, appearances are not what they seem.
The strip club is owned by vanity-endowed Dallas (McConaughey), a sly-witted business man who uses his slight southern drawl and charming smile to great advantage, but Mike is free to recruit – to train – others due to his status at the club. Enter a newbie to the scene, Adam (Alex Pettyfer of I Am Number Four). After helping him out at the construction site, Mike is able to flip Adam’s world on its head by introducing him to Dallas and the members of the club - True Blood's Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer (White Collar) and Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami), and wrestler Kevin Nash. Thus, The Avengers of the strip club scene is born and the cash flows right into their g-strings.
As funny as it is (journey with strippers as they search for the perfect costume), the movie performs a bit of a balancing act. This is a dark and sometimes seedy scene. Neon lights give way to inner demons and the shadows sometimes reveal truths. It’s all fun and games for awhile (especially for Adam), but the trick is watching just how Mike and Adam operate in the world inhabited by Adam's no-nonsense sister Brooke (Horn) and understanding the persona that is developed under the neon of night is not the persona developed within. Maybe there’s more Mike in this then there is Adam. A slight under-handling of a character goes a long way sometimes…especially when he’s the cause of so much … challenge.
For some, Magic Mike will not be the spectacle they are expecting. I mean, you can’t always have your bare-bottomed McConaughey and eat it, too. Calm down, ladies. Calm down. Certainly, what Warner Bros. is advertising is what they want the film to be and, in reality, that’s not quite the film Magic Mike is. Oh, the good times are there alright, but what happens when the night ends? That's right. Consequence rises with the morning sun. Mike and his dollar bills just can't get any loving at the bank and with no loan there's no business for his dreams. Humbling and humiliating, isn't it?
Let’s face it, though. Warner Bros. has to sell the lie. With every scene of social relevance, every single jump cut, every dialogue-heavy scene with imperfectly recorded dialogue costs the studio another ticket. Audiences – especially the hordes of females already hungry for Magic Mike and the Midnight Meat Express – might be turned off by the imperfect artistry Soderbergh purposefully plants in this picture. And, my god, are there some beautiful moments (see the island beach party scene if you doubt me) captured imperfectly which, in my opinion, makes them even more unique.
Soderbergh uses natural light throughout (and sometimes so bitterly dark Tatum’s toothy grin disappears while on the stage); there are camera shots that are intentionally amateurish and crassly sexual scenes (some you won’t even notice) which makes Magic Mike … a slice of reality that is entertaining as hell. You might as well have called this picture Super Steven because Soderbergh – the maestro behind the camera - wants you, at all times, keenly aware this a Tampa strip club full of sweat and searching characters.
Audiences expecting purely ass-shaking spectacle will get that … to a degree. The film is quickly paced, funny, and full of rousing stage performances. But there’s a little more magic tucked inside Magic Mike’s g-string with a solid story harnessed to a wonderfully charismatic performance from Tatum.
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Reid Carolin
Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, and Olivia Munn
Genre: Drama | Comedy
Tagline: Magic Mike
Memorable Movie Quote: "But I think I see a lotta lawbreakers up in this house tonight..."
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: June 29, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Set in the world of male strippers, Magic Mike is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Channing Tatum. The film follows Mike (Tatum) as he takes a young dancer called The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and schools him in the fine arts of partying, picking up women, and making easy money.