Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Premise: A male stripper (Channing Tatum) takes a young man under his wing and inaugurates him into the business.
What Works: Despite what might sound like a trashy premise, Magic Mike does tell a coherent story and is not sexually exploitative. Like most movies about the sex industry, from Showgirls to Middle Men, this is a Hollywood success story and the focus is ultimately on the financial rather than the carnal. In that respect, Magic Mike does well by demonstrating how financial struggle and success come to shape the characters and it contrasts people’s aspirations with their realities. The film has a couple of strong performances by Matthew McConaughey as the club owner and Channing Tatum as one of the star performers. Of all the actors, this film is most ideal for McConaughey in part because it allows him to go shirtless, which has become costume de rigueur for the actor. But McConaughey has also been attempting to rehabilitate his career as a serious actor with roles in The Lincoln Lawyer and Killer Joe and his character in Magic Mike gets some substantial scenes in which McConaughey is able to showcase his dramatic talents. Channing Tatum is also very watchable, proving once again that he is much better as a romantic lead than as an action star. His rapport with other dancers and with the women in his life is believable and this may be the first role in which the actor conveys the confidence and presence of a Hollywood leading man.
What Doesn’t: Magic Mike suffers from being overlong and a little tedious. Thankfully, the movie avoids the obnoxious dance routines of Step-Up and its sequels and in many cases the performances are well shot and choreographed. But in several instances it is unclear why the film includes these scenes; nothing of consequence happens in them and they don’t establish motifs that pay off later. The movie isn’t exploitative and in fact the filmmakers play it too safe. The film does not get erotic enough and the story follows a predictable Hollywood boiler plate in which a newbie achieves overnight success and is corrupted by sex, drugs, and money. It is a familiar story pattern and viewers ought to be able to anticipate exactly where this film is going within the first half hour. This plotline is further hurt by the casting of Alex Pettyfer as the freshman dancer. A generic story can be energized by a dynamic performance but Pettyfer is not very good in the role. He is very static and lacks the fresh faced qualities that would befit his character. The trouble that Pettyfer’s character gets into with some local drug dealers creates another trouble for Magic Mike. There are no serious consequences to the subplot and it does irreparable damage to the script’s attempt at a romantic relationship between Tatum’s character and the sister of Pettyfer’s character, played by Cody Horn. It is beyond credibility that this woman would want to begin a romance with the man who got her brother involved in stripping and drugs and the resolution of the film is forced into conforming to commercial conventions rather than following the interests of the story and the motivations of the characters. Magic Mike was directed by Steven Soderbergh, which accounts for the film’s technical prowess, and this picture comes across as a companion piece to Soderbergh’s 2009 film The Girlfriend Experience. Magic Mike is far more accessible than The Girlfriend Experience but it’s also dumber and whatever Magic Mike has to say about the relationship between sex and money was said far more interestingly in the previous film.
Bottom Line: Magic Mike is not Showgirls but it isn’t Midnight Cowboy either. The picture is ultimately a pretty standard date movie that will probably be an audience pleaser but compromises itself in order to do so.
Episode: #397 (July 22, 2012)