Chances are that if you’re at the cinema at the moment, and find yourself having to elbow your way through a wall of tittering women, then you can safely assume male stripper movie Magic Mike is screening. This raunchy drama certainly doesn’t skimp on the fun – at times it feels exactly like you’re hanging out with a bunch of goodtime guys and gals on a Saturday night – but viewers should be aware that the film, from director Steven Soderbergh, is less Full Monty and more Boogie Nights. In other words, it mixes in the darkness and “artily” doesn’t feel the need to wrap up everything with a nice neat life lesson.
Apparently based on Channing Tatum’s own experiences as a directionless 19 year old in Florida, Magic Mike is pretty much just a g-string-clad spin on the classic A Star is Born storyline: A seasoned pro (Tatum), approaching his industry’s sell-by date, takes a newbie (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing. But while the protégé rises rapidly, the veteran finds himself at a life crossroads. And that’s about all there is, plot-wise, to Magic Mike. So if you’re expecting an original narrative with a satisfying sense of resolution, you’ll be disappointed… But then again, I’m pretty sure most people won’t be watching Magic Mike for its story.
Some critics have been calling Haywire Soderbergh’s most audience-accessible film in years. In reality, having watched both Haywire and Magic Mike in the same week, I’d argue that the latter is the real crowd-pleaser. It’s slick, it’s high energy, it’s cheekily (and unapologetically) R-rated and it’s carried along by some wonderful performances.
Soderbergh seems to have a gift for identifying the strengths of his performers and then capitalising on them for maximum effect. So, for example, Tatum, playing the title character, has never been more likeable on screen – a good-hearted guy with a hefty chunk of charisma and amazing dance moves (Step Up launched Tatum’s movie career, let’s not forget). At times it feels like Magic Mike has been mostly ad-libbed, giving Tatum an opportunity to demonstrate his natural charm as he slips past the defences of Pettyfer’s distrustful sister (Cody Horn).
Now Tatum may flash his posterior and other physical assets in Magic Mike but I’d argue that his character has unisex appeal. Mike is living the straight male dream – as his comical first scene with a really entertaining (and deliciously naughty) Olivia Munn reveals – but he still feels constrained by his career path. How long can his lifestyle last? Will he ever be taken seriously? Can he make it on his own? These aren’t concerns exclusive to a band of exotic dancers in Tampa.
Admittedly, Magic Mike doesn’t plunge into a deep exploration of these issues. But that’s because it’s too busy surprising you. One of the biggest revelations? Matthew McConaughey in his supporting role as Dallas, the vain, djembe drum-playing owner of Xquisite, the strip club where Mike and co. work.
As already mentioned, Magic Mike seems designed to take its stars’ onscreen personas and crank them up to full volume – blurring the line between character and image. McConaughey leapt into the limelight in the mid 90s with roles in pedigreed fare like A Time to Kill and Amistad, but for the past decade he’s evidently been content to career coast in formulaic romantic comedies that let him seduce leading ladies, soak up the sun, do adventure sports and show off his abs. In Magic Mike, McConaughey seems to be parodying this perception of himself. Many of Dallas’s scenes are highlight moments in the film, including his instruction of Pettyfer, and his own final routine. At the same time, Dallas isn’t pure satire. Beneath the lazy cowboy grin is something darker and more predatory… as a few choice moments reveal.
All parties have to come to an end, eventually, and Magic Mike does so by pouring more and more seriousness into its sweet, easy-to-sip cocktail. This change in direction is a bit of a bummer frankly, but it is in keeping with the film’s believable “slice of life” script and general blending of tones. And in the end, despite an unmistakable whiff of pointlessness, Magic Mike demonstrates enough enjoyable intelligence and wit – completely unexpected in this kind of film – to help the audience overlook its flaws. Whether hetero male viewers will be able to cope with 2 hours of continual male dudeity I don’t know… but I hope so. Otherwise they’re missing out on a smart, rewarding piece of cinema.
Last Updated: July 31, 2012