Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Magic Mike

In Tampa, Midnight Cowboys And Full Monties

Strippers on parade: Matthew McConaughey (center) flanked by Alex Pettyfer and Channing Tatum in Steven Soderbergh's comedy-drama "Magic Mike". 
Warner Brothers


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It is inevitable in a filmography boasting such titles as "Full Frontal" and "The Girlfriend Experience" -- two films about overexposure -- that Steven Soderbergh would direct "Magic Mike" (from Reid Corolin's screenplay), which initially captures the energy of Channing Tatum's eight months as a teenage stripper in an all-male revue.  Mr. Tatum is excellent as the title character, a 30-something running out of money and options as an entrepreneur while showing 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) the ropes at Xquisite, the male strip club owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). 

Mike performs all the right moves on stage but his mind is scattered.  A fun-loving, sharp-witted muscle guy with a hip-hop lilt in his voice, Mike has no problem getting ladies to throw their money at him as he strips (and some women in the movie audience will want to as well.)  He's saved thousands of dollars -- mainly in one-dollar bills but "there's some fives in there" -- for a business venture that will supersede his ongoing business endeavors.  Brooke (Cody Horn) hopes that Mike, who engages in threesomes with "fuck-buddy" Joanna (Olivia Munn), can stay focused long enough to keep the impressionable Adam on the rails.  Mr. Tatum combines brain and brawn in Mike and exudes vulnerability.  He's much more than mere muscle or a pretty boy face: this man can act, and even in substandard films ("Dear John", "The Vow") he is very good.

"Magic Mike" is an entertaining treat for men and women, its atmosphere of spectacle on an intimate scale evoking the character-driven fare of 1970s American films.  The fairer sex will get its eyeful of male skin and phalluses if little else in this, Mr. Soderbergh's 26th film.  "Magic Mike" however, wades around feeling for its story, searching for its anchor as much as its lead character does.  To that end, "Magic Mike" takes a while to find its dramatic center, and before it does we get lessons on the architecture of stripping, with funny moments from Mr. McConaughey, riveting here as Dallas, in a role the oft-topless actor -- who's having a great film year -- has perhaps subconsciously led up to.  Dallas could be said to have bigger visions than his stomach can possibly hold but his wide-eyed ambition is admirable despite being a more self-centered sort than he'd readily admit.

Mr. McConaughey struts and instructs enthusiastically with the winning charm of an eager boy scout and tenacity of a pit-bull or physical education teacher.  Every single muscle in his torso is popping, stretched and displayed, and he could have a tattoo stenciled on each one.  There's enough bicep flexing, muscle-popping, butt-shaking and hip-gyrating to keep the ladies in the moviegoing audience satisfied. 

Despite Mr. Soderbergh's exquisite cinematography capturing golden-rayed fantasies and electric performers (as well as excellent choreography by Alison Faulk) there's little to penetrate the surface of Mr. Corolin's thin but witty script.  Throughout, "Magic Mike" has to keep itself busy with puns but I felt it could have spent some of that time exploring more serious matters (though in more ways than one we see glimpses of the cracks in some characters.)  Clichés finally catch up to "Magic Mike" to make a sometimes interesting film a merely conventional one.  In such scenes you feel the director is smarter and knows better than to fall for the okey-doke.

Mr. Soderbergh's dramedy is a sanguine edition of "Midnight Cowboy" as a tale of a lonely man looking to find his way while chaperoning a younger version of himself through life as he dips his toes in the stripping trade.  Mike prostitutes himself into delusionary visions; he can't see beyond the length or size of his physical talents.  There's a close-up shot in "Magic Mike" that recalls John Schlesinger's shot of Brenda Vaccaro's hands gripping and pulling the skin on Jon Voight's back during a sexual episode. 

One of the strongest things about "Magic Mike" is its portrayal of showmanship and camaraderie among its male brotherhood.  So often we see women objectified on the big screen, and in films on strippers ("Showgirls") or prostitutes ("House Of Pleasures") we see women bonding.  Here the men (including pro-wrestler Kevin Nash, known in such circles as "Big Sexy" but here as Tarzan) have a gay old time early on in a scene involving the neophyte Adam. 

These muscular men make money with muscle: in Michael Mann parlance they are their job, even if Mike is in denial about that.  These men are into their jobs so much they hardly see the women in their off-stage lives.  They are lifers in the strip game but we rarely if ever see their scars or get to see beyond what they do on stage.  They appear to be happy with their mundane but exciting work but are they satisfied with their lives in total? 

Mr. Soderbergh is adept at capturing mood and tone in his work, doing so very well in last year's "Contagion", in the aforementioned "Girlfriend Experience" and in January's "Haywire", which also featured Mr. Tatum.  In "Magic Mike" there's a mature, speakeasy feel to some conversations especially in the film's last few scenes.  Ms. Horn is especially good even if her character Brooke isn't given much foundation (we know little of her background.)  Brooke seems to hang around the edges of the film waiting to be discovered or unearthed, and her relationship with her brother Adam feels underdeveloped.  They don't appear especially close.  One key scene between them, while dramatically truthful, rings false character-wise, and some over-acting rears its ugly head. 

Yet "Magic Mike" almost achieves the impossible by eating its cake and keeping it.  The film plays as a documentary and diary of one man's journey in the strip world while commenting on the adult performance industry's staidness despite its nighttime excitement (and daytime realities.)  This specter alone is fascinating and entertaining but beyond that there's little else.  These muscle men are image symbols of the American Dream (literally so in one stage sequence) yet they are forever chasing it.  Some of them, maybe all of them, realize too late that the American Dream has long since left them behind.  The irony is that these men display the essence and confidence of who they are in their work yet are far from grounded as people, isolated and consumed by the plastic pleasures their night dances bring.

"Magic Mike" is also a commentary on how men are viewed (and toyed with) by women, shown as more boisterous and intelligent than their male counterparts.  It's sly theater -- the objectification of men by male and female characters as well as by the filmmakers -- in the choice of shots used.  There are halting, contemplative conversations between Mike and some of the women he meets.  One talk is a reverse on what you'd expect a seducing man to say to a woman.  Often lurking nearby in some of the film's unisex interactions is an additional male as if on standby, whose presence seems to speak: "not so fast buddy -- you're not clear to land here."

With: Matt Bomer, Riley Keough, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias.

"Magic Mike" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use.  The film's running time is one hour and 50 minutes.  In theaters in the U.S. and Canada on Thursday at midnight.

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