[Review] – Magic Mike

5 Jul

Title: Magic Mike
Year: 2012
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Joe Manganiello, Mircea Monroe, Riley Keough
MPAA Rating: R, pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Runtime: 110 min
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metacritic: 73

Before I actually get into my thoughts on Magic Mike, the latest film from Steven Soderbergh, there are two topics I think I must address to really articulate my feelings. Like I did when reviewing Haywire earlier this year, as well as when I reviewed Contagion last year (both of which I gave A-‘s to), the one thing that I kept thinking when watching this film is that I would seriously miss Mr. Soderbergh if he does go along with his plans to retire from filmmaking. As it stands, this right here is the third-to-last film of his behind he retires; the remaining ones being The Bitter Pill, with Rooney Mara, and Behind the Candelabra, the Liberace biopic he’s making for HBO with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas.

What’s so amazing about Mr. Soderbergh as a director is how extremely versatile he is. The guy can go from handling popcorn fare like the Ocean’s movies to doing a four-and-a-half-hour epic about Che Guevara. From handling huge ensembles in a big-budget flick, to doing an independent documentary. And yet the man is just an absolutely genius in how he goes about it, there’s always a sense that it’s him behind the camera, he always has a style, something to say, and even when he’s making films that seem to be super commercial, he gets really great performances, they’re extraordinarily well-made, and they have something deeper to say, too.

Now, that being said about Mr. Soderbergh, about how genius a man he is, and how much he will be missed if he really does retire after an supremely prolific career, the other man I must give props to here is Channing Tatum. I’ve been saying that 2012 is the year of Mark Duplass, because the indie multi-hyphenate is getting more well-known with roles in really great films, but I mean, Channing Tatum is also just having a totally unstoppable year right now. He’s already been in three films this year, the aforementioned Haywire, 21 Jump Street and The Vow; the former two being films I gave an A- to, and the latter two being films that have grossed nearly $400 million combined at the worldwide box office.

Commercial success aside, this is finally the year in which Channing Tatum has made me a believer. Throughout his career it seemed like this may be a guy with some talent, mostly because of the promise he showed in Dito Montiel‘s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, but it quickly looked like the guy seemed to just be pigeonholed into roles that only were after his physical prowess or his looks, and it looked like we were in for a decade of Step Up movies or G.I. Joe flicks, with the occasional Dear John thrown in there too for good measure.

Then, however, he signed on for Haywire. Which, yes, was an action movie, but it was one directed by Steven Soderbergh, so maybe it was better than just that (and it was). But the real sign that maybe there was more to Channing Tatum came when it was announced that Mr. Soderbergh’s next two films, Magic Mike and The Bitter Pill, would also star Mr. Tatum, and, not only that, but this one, Magic Mike, would actually be inspired by Mr. Tatum’s real life as a male stripper before he became an actor. Now, like I said, I think Steven Soderbergh’s a genius, so if he saw something in Channing Tatum to give him roles in three of his last four movies before he retires, there had to be something there.

I’m a full-on believer now. I mean, in Haywire he was good and all, but he didn’t really all that much to do. In The Vow he was charming and had good enough chemistry with Rachel McAdams, but the film itself wasn’t great. But then 21 Jump Street became what is to this day my favorite comedy of the year, and he was absolutely golden in it. And now in Magic Mike once again he just shines. I’m on the Channing Tatum bandwagon now, for sure, something that just six months ago I would’ve thought impossible.

Now, what about Magic Mike? I realize I’ve gone on for too long talking about Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Tatum. But they are what make Magic Mike a film that’s insanely better than I ever would have imagined. Of course you had to realize that if Steven Soderbergh had agreed to do a film about male strippers, there had to be something more there. But the fact is that the promotional campaign just sold this one as a wild time with guys with six packs and nothing more.

That whole marketing strategy obviously paid off. Magic Mike opened in second place this weekend at the box office, earning a much better-than-expected $39 million on its first weekend, just a few thousand dollars off the mark set by Ocean’s Twelve or it would have become the best opening in Mr. Soderbergh’s career. And that had everything to do with the promotional strategy, since women made up for a whopping 73% of its opening weekend audience. But I mean, I was still eager to see it because it was Mr. Soderbergh, and because the middling B grade from CinemaScore meant that maybe women who had been expecting a full-out romp with half-naked dudes were somewhat disappointed by what they got. Meaning, there was a more complex side to Magic Mike.

That, in a sense, was actually the case. I mean, don’t get me wrong, women will no doubt enjoy the heck out of this movie just because it has their desired slew of male actors with rock-hard abs stripping down on the big screen. But there’s so much more to Magic Mike, in fact there’s sort of a darker undercurrent to it in a way, and you have to give so much credit to Mr. Soderbergh and how well he constructed this whole thing (and how good he made it look, being also the cinematographer here), to the screenplay by Reid Carolin because of how smart it was at avoiding the clichés that may be attached to this story, and to the whole cast and the really great performances they put on display. I never thought I could like a film like this as much as I did.

This is a film that’s so much at once. It feels like a big-budget film because of the faces and the energy and the hype, but it’s actually a really small independent film. It looks like a dumb movie about strippers, because that’s kind of what it is, but it’s also a much smarter film than many of the more brainier options right now at your local theater. As corny as the film may be, the characters here are real humans that you can connect to, they are fully dimensional, they have a sense of humor, they make you care.

Mr. Tatum is pitch-perfect here, probably the best he’s ever been, right up there with 21 Jump Street. And that’s because the one truly great asset the man has as an actor is that he’s likable. Even when his films are bad, and even when he’s bad in them, having such a hard time going through serious scenes, he exudes a charm that you buy into. Well, here’s a role that pretty much only requires that charm and for him to have a good time, and considering this one’s based on his own real-life experiences, he just feels super comfortable in the role.

He plays the titular character, an experienced male stripper who quickly takes a liking to Adam, a new young guy he meets at a construction site he’s working at, and he quickly starts teaching him about stripping, charming ladies, and making easy money; his stage-name is set to be The Kid. The money’s made at Club Xquisite, owned by a former stripper named Dallas, played by Matthew McConaughey. Mr. Conaughey is another actor I think is really coming off into his own as of late, and here he’s sensational, kind of making fun of his perceived personna in a way, having a blast with this role and totally owning his scenes in one of the best performances he’s ever given.

A big part of the appeal of Magic Mike is just that sense that you’re getting a back-stage peek, seeing how these things really work; the make-up, the financial split, the back-stage chatter, it’s all here. Magic Mike eventually starts falling for The Kid’s sister, played by Cody Horn, and then things progress from there. She’s super protective and wants her brother to be looked after, Magic Mike wants to prove to her that he can do that, and that he’s more than just a piece of meat with a thong in which to put in tips. But then the movie gets darker and shows, in The Kid’s storyline, the temptations that can come with the role, and Mr. Soderbergh is really great showing it in the most raw and realistic of ways.

This film is just absolutely great. Sure, people may have wanted more drama, more astonishing developments in the narrative to happen, or maybe just a two hours of those very well-choreographed strip routines. But this is Steven Soderbergh, so of course we were going to get something different, something better, a really great director trying his hand at yet another totally different kind of story, and delivering a direction that’s as sensitive and stellar as always, joined by a great cast and a guy named Channing Tatum who’s really growing in front of our eyes. No pun intended.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “[Review] – Magic Mike”

  1. colincarman July 6, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    And men!:-)

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