Review: 'Magic Mike' is Typical, Soderbergh Excellence Without Heart
by Jeremy Kirk
June 29, 2012
Steven Soderbergh has never been a director who wanted to label himself nor is he a fan of working in familiar territory. Take Magic Mike, his latest out-of-left-field effort, for instance. Set in the chest-waxed, light-flashing, dollar-bill-raining world of male strippers, it's about as far as one can get from some of Soderbergh's "one for me" indies. As with all of his films, though, Magic Mike is made with an effortless quality and a lived-in honesty very few directors can muster. Soderbergh does it regularly, but, as we've seen before, there's a lack of emotion to Magic Mike that keeps it and, once again, Soderbergh from achieving something truly great.
Channing Tatum, golden boy of 2012 as he is, plays the Mike of the film's title, a real success in the Tampa-area stripper scene. He spends his nights on stage, his days sleeping it off or working the odd, construction job, and both nights and days dreaming of something greater. Namely, Mike wants to design and sell custom furniture. Mike also has a new friend, Adam, played by Alex Pettyfer, a teen who learns the stripping ropes from the veteran as well as the other colorful yet completely ripped workers at the club.
Working from a screenplay by Reid Carolin and based on Tatum's real-life experiences as a stripper, Soderbergh has no issues finding the fun in the subject matter at hand. Those colorful characters that make up Club Xquisite are reason enough to watch the film, not the least of which being Matthew "Shirt Optional" McConaughey. It's when the sun goes down and the club comes alive that Magic Mike's energy gets turned on valve fully open.
Yes, this is a film about men dancing and taking off clothes, so there's a certain divide in the demographic they're going for here. While some will be whooping and catcalling at the half-naked men on screen—yes, this will happen—others will certainly be finding themselves more than a little uncomfortable. Whichever side of that excitement spectrum you fall on, there's little denying the quality of how everything is shot in Magic Mike. Soderbergh's eye—once again, the director serves as his own cinematographer—is spot-on, never missing a moment of one of the film's many performances and always capturing it at its most interesting. Even some of the quieter moments in the film allow the director a level of experimentation he never passes on taking advantage of.
But Steven Soderbergh can confidently shoot a film and make it look amazing without making it look difficult. That's a given when it comes to this director. So, too, is a knack for taking on clunky screenplays that stutter-step towards an inevitable conclusion. Carolin's screenplay hits peaks and valleys, not an issue in of itself, but the down-time in Magic Mike is filled with subplot melodrama involving Mike's "is it or isn't it" fling with Joanna, played by Olivia Munn, and his growing relationship with Brooke, Adam's sister played by Cody Horn. The latter of these is predictable, not well hidden in what it's trying to do, and never even makes much of an attempt at taking a left turn. A late-hitting turn of events for Adam creates a modicum of tension for Magic Mike's final act, but it succeeds in calling to memory typical plot points found in bio-pics rather than anything genuinely dramatic here.
The bond between Mike and Adam helps that, and this, in turn, is aided by a magnificent performance by Tatum and commendable work from Pettyfer. Tatum lived this life, and he looks just as comfortable on that stage as he did playing for laughs in 21 Jump Street earlier this year. So full of charisma it practically bleeds out onto the screen, Tatum's star is just going to continue to rise and making personal choices like this and getting someone as noteworthy as Soderbergh to take the reigns on it is only going to launch it that much higher. We could easily say Magic Mike is the movie that makes him a star if that train hadn't already left the station.
Sadly, as much as the male-male bond works here, the male-female bond is in desperate need of work. Every time Mike and Brooke have a scene together, the film grinds to a halt making even red-blooded, American men yearn for the excitement of other men dancing on a stage. There's very little felt between Tatum and Horn, as the actress has a difficult time finding the believability in her character. Horn uses teeth-clenching like it's a crutch that will get her through the scene. It only makes us focus on her cheek bones, not the most successful of performances to say the least.
Thankfully, Magic Mike isn't sold solely on the strength of its love story, and Carolin and Soderbergh continuously go back to that crew at Club Xquisite and their oily eccentric ways. McConaughey is insane in leather chaps and cowboy hat as the club's "all right, all right, all right" manager. As if Soderbergh just kept telling him "more", the actor goes all out in every scene, eyes bugged out and immaculate hair standing proud. "True Blood" alum Joe Maganiello and professional wrestler Kevin Nash play fellow dancers, each of them exercising equal amounts charisma and hilarity and making a spin-off TV series not out of the realm of desired entertainment.
It's really the only way a continuation of Magic Mike would be accepted, to stick with the ridiculous antics of the club and have hollering fans tune in each week to see these buff men TAKE IT OFF! Magic Mike works as a well executed comedy about life as a male stripper. I'm sure Tatum has thousands of stories he could tell, but the one about the would-be furniture designer finding true love only slightly works. Soderbergh brings an impeccable eye to the table but, without true emotion or real honesty in its drama, Magic Mike only has eye candy and laughs to offer. Those two are just barely enough.
Jeremy's Rating: 6 out of 10