Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Magic Mike (2012)

Magic Mike, the advertising campaign, promised the equivalent of a girls-and-gays-night-out to a male strip club, 100 minutes of gorgeous men showing their moves and their abs for a wad of crumpled-up ones and the excited screams of an audience in lust. It was a smart move: like Channing Tatum's title character (and, in another way, the actor's career up to this point), the film was presented as sexy, flashy, and shallow. And like Tatum and his "Mike," the film was showed surprising depth for a film about stripping.

Mike (Tatum) works a number of jobs, including co-managing a construction site. One day on the site, he comes across Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who's been crashing on his sister's couch and looking for work. Mike takes "the Kid" under his wing, and brings him into the stripper fold, at a club run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a Svengali in assless chaps. Over the course of the summer, the Kid rises, and Mike flirts with the Kid's sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), while also examining his own life.

Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin, working with stories from Tatum's brief stint as a stripper before he became an actor, present this supposedly-seedy underworld in a remarkably matter-of-fact way. Not only does Mike perform, but he also does the books for the club, as well as saving up his funds to launch his own custom furniture business. The club scenes (not the performances, obviously) are marked with inane small talk between the men. Even the location is remarkably mundane: Tampa, not Miami, Florida. Soderbergh shoots the city in a yellow filter, and presents it as a city of the recession: still carrying on, but the economy is taking its toll on the place. It's also to the film's benefit that Soderbergh doesn't celebrate or condemn Mike's lifestyle, but instead simply presents it as it is.

Tatum shows surprising range; he's no master actor, surely, but he proves there's a lot more to him than what we've seen so far. Pettyfer, too, brings a lot more to the table here than he did in his previous "stand here and look pretty" roles, namely because it gives him something to do while looking pretty. Horn doesn't add much, but namely because her character has nothing to do other than nag Adam or make googley eyes at Mike. Similarly, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez just add background, filling out the roster of hot men on display. Olivia Munn steals her few scenes as a former hookup of Mike's. But the real scene-stealer is McConaughey, who exudes oily sex appeal and rocks those chaps. It may be his finest performance to date.

Magic Mike does have its own special brand of magic. Like it's titular stripper, there's a lot more going on underneath the surface: a heart of gold, sure, but a slick mind too. B+

*It won't happen, but Magic Mike deserves an Oscar nomination for visual effects based on those abs, and particularly McConaughey's ass. Goddamn.

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