2012, 110mins, 15
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Reid Carolin
Cast includes: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Reid Carolin
UK Release Date: 11th July 2012
Combining Steven Soderbergh, hunk of the minute Channing Tatum and male stripping might seem like an unlikely cinematic cocktail, but it makes for admirably refreshing viewing in the guise of “Magic Mike”. Loosely based on Tatum’s own experience stripping in his late teens, “Magic Mike” offers impressive choreography, a strong central voice and Soderbergh’s trademark edge. There’s a definite imbalance surrounding the quality of acting in the picture, but Soderbergh’s ambitions as a filmmaker allow “Magic Mike” to flourish as something more than just another silly stripper flick, even if that aspect is enjoyable (albeit thoroughly emasculating) to behold.
Mike (Channing Tatum) is the prize jewel of the Tampa Male Revue owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, stealing scenes like a pro), his physique, stage presence and immense athleticism rendering him a favourite with the local women. Mike harbours ambitions of running his own authentic furniture crafting service, working odd jobs during the day to supplement his stripping, all in pursuit of financing his creative dream. At a construction site he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a college dropout in need of a break. Mike introduces him to Dallas and soon under his rebranded identity of “The Kid” Adam is raking in fans and cash at the Revue, partying hard and revelling in women as a result. However things spiral out of control as Adam becomes addicted to the hedonistic lifestyle, much to the displeasure of his sister Brooke (Cody Horn, keeping Mike trapped in a world he no longer wants any part of.
Tatum gives a solid performance in “Magic Mike”, servicing the picture with an authentic and likable anchor. Following his delightful comic work in “21 Jump Street” it’s great to see Tatum continue his redemptive arc with “Magic Mike”, demonstrating a restrained yet confident set of dramatic shops. The beefcake holds the screen effortlessly here, surprising with an organic and charismatic turn. His background as a dancer is also exploited marvellously, his routines in “Magic Mike” truly a sight to behold. In fact the movie generally does the stripping thing very well, Soderbergh clearly having a ball devising a selection of amusing skits for his macho protagonists to deliver. From a photographical standpoint “Magic Mike” is rather washed out and bleached by soft sunshine, but the stripping set-pieces are anything but ordinary, providing the otherwise moody narrative with a cotton candy momentum.
Letting the side down are Cody Horn and to a lesser extent Pettyfer. The latter merely does the minimum, letting Tatum and the stylistic choices dictate his character. On the other hand Horn is atrocious, handing in quite possibly the worst female performance in a major motion picture since Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s diabolical effort in last summer’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”. Horn floats through the film with no conviction or focus, letting lines slip into the ether as if she was reciting them from a particularly mundane portion of a phonebook. The romance between her and Tatum is viable because we come to accept she represents a way for Mike to escape his lifestyle, a success on the part of the film-makers and Tatum himself, Horn’s wretched contribution having nothing to do with it. On the other hand McConaughey oscillates exquisitely between being a goofy hoot and suspicious slime ball, sometimes in the same sequence. It’s uplifting to have the actor bringing more than just nice abdominals to the table.
As a parable on the danger of excess and the fear of loneliness “Magic Mike” is a cut below “Boogie Nights”, but it still succeeds thanks to a story that develops appropriately and in an attentive fashion. Soderbergh strikes a sturdy link between the flamboyancy of the craft and the nasty repercussions it can have on one’s social and mental wellbeing, using a believable storytelling model and even some trippy visuals to hammer the point home satisfactorily. There are enough weird touches to offset claims that “Magic Mike” is pure formula, even if it never really stretches itself from a screenwriting perspective. The dialogue and characterisations are incredibly sharp, and even if the plot fails to move beyond the usual, it’s recounted by a director with enough skill to ensure it feels comfy rather than fatally dull.
“Magic Mike” has a lot of traditionally fun seasonal elements to it, certainly those seeking effective escapism without explosions should apply optimistically. It’s destined to live in the shadows of several other thematically similar works (the aforementioned “Boogie Nights” rears its head again), but as its own beast there are enough nimble touches to ensure it warrants a solid recommendation. I should also mention that it’s nice to see a movie objectifying men for a change, even if said objectification left me feeling deflated about my evidently under-sculpted self.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012