Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn.
Written by: Reid Carolin
Running Time: 110 mins
Release date: 13th July 2012
I have to be honest with you, I went into Magic Mike with very low expectations indeed. My least favourite actor, Canning Tatum, in a film about male strippers? Not the sort of thing I would want to queue up for, or even want to see on TV. Sometimes having low expectations is a good thing because Magic Mike is a far better affair than I ever thought and Mr Tatum is pretty good.
Based on the real life experiences of its star, it follows Mike, a stripped in a Tampa nightclub run by the eccentric Dallas. Mike side-lines as a roofer as well as a series of other business ventures, hoping one day to start his own furniture line. While working on a house, he is told to look after new kid, Adam. The rookie doesn’t have a clue about anything and one night; he meets up with Mike again who takes him to his other line of work, dancing for hungry and sex starved women. Throwing the kid on stage, his shy stripping makes him a hit and soon he becomes a regular. However, the trappings of success have a darker side and Mike, who has promised Adam’s sister, Brooke, a tough, non-nonsense kind of woman, to look after him, then has to deal with more than the youngster’s ego as drugs come onto the scene.
In the hands of some directors, this could quite easily be a sleazy affair concentrating on the stripping and nothing more but in the hands of Steven Sodenbergh, he has created an entertaining comedy drama that progressively gets darker as the film goes on. He never lets the stripping take control and it becomes more of a character study than just men taking their clothes off. Sure, there is plenty of stage action but it never feels dirty even if the moves the males perform do raise an eyebrow or two. They are just a small part of a much bigger picture.
The performances are very good indeed. Canning Tatum has, to me, always seemed very wooden and unbelievable. Maybe because this is a film based on his life (he started out as a male stripped when he was 19) that he gives his most natural performance to date. He is likeable, endearing and even as a full-blooded male; he can throw some moves on the dance floor. He really shines in his scenes with Adam’s sister, played by Cody Horn. These improvised conversations feel unforced and you can fully see that these two very different people should be together. Alex Pettyfer, who plays the naive Adam, does a decent job too, growing confidence throughout until his actions lead him to trouble.
Then there’s Matthew McConaughey. I don’t know what’s wrong with him lately. He is explosively good in the excellent Killer Joe and here he steals the film, as the self-assured owner of the club who dreams of better things. He commands the screen every time he is on. For a man of his age, he still has some impressive moves and the scene in which he is teaching Adam the tricks of the trade is a high point. I think Mr McConaughey has reached his peak and is ready to prove to the world he is an outstanding screen actor. So far he’s going the right way.
The film mixes the comic nicely with the more dramatic. The backstage scenes where the strippers prepare themselves (in more ways than one) are very revealing (but not in that way). It’s always interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes and Soderbergh does a good job at capturing that. There’s also the more serious side, which never crosses the line into melodrama and in fact, is under played. Some serious issues are also on show here: the longing for change, Mike’s sensibility with his ambitions. He realizes it’s all about the money and the girls but it’s also a way to fulfil his own goals even if in the end something has to be sacrificed. Magic Mike could have quite easily followed the same path as Showgirls and Burlesque but it’s a far more human and intelligent film.
Don’t get me wrong. If you are a fan of Mr Tatum and you enjoy seeing him half naked (full naked at one point but from behind) then you will get your thrills but this is a far smarter movie than I ever thought it would be and a more entertaining experience too. See? Low expectations always seem to deliver. Magic Mike certainly had some tricks up its sleeve I never saw coming!
As a side note, if you really want to enjoy the whole experience, just keep your eyes open whenever Tarzan, played by wrestling star Kevin Nash, is on stage to dance. There is hope for me yet!