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« Yes, No, Maybe So: "Silver Linings Playbook" | Main | June. It's a Wrap »
Sunday
Jul012012

Review: "Magic Mike"

Originally published in my column at Towleroad...

An exhilarating all night double date is winding down on a bridge in Tampa, just before the sun rises. Mike (Channing Tatum) stands up on the railing, looks over his shoulder and dives gracefully backwards into the water to the mild delight of the anonymous girls. His new protégé "The Kid" (Alex Pettyfer), already eager to follow in his new buddy's footsteps (and body rolls), jumps in awkwardly after him.

Hey Mike, I think we should be best friends!" 

The Kid blurts the invitation out with both of them bobbing in the water. He's like a little boy who's just discovered a whole new playground. It's a perfectly crush-worthy unguarded moment -- the kind that makes you give yourself over completely to a movie. My heart is yours, movie. Treat me right. 

This gem of a scene is also, as it turns out, the exclamation point to a perfectly formed Act One, "June". The movie takes place over the course of one life-changing summer for Mike and The Kid: June, July, and August. You go to Magic Mike to see seven spectacularly formed male bodies but the movie turns out to be all sculpted, too: June is introductions, flirtations and promise, by July you're deep in love/lust and too hot for clothing, and in August... 

the cock rocking kings of Tampa

Well, you know how sticky August gets...

A word about the movie's shape, or physique if you will: If Magic Mike The Movie were a man, it'd be one of those average seeming guys who is suddenly a sex god once his clothes are off, annoyingly fit through the mystery of genetics without ever having to sweat or target a muscle group. All of which is to say that the movie's carefully sculpted form is initially hidden from view by its ultra casual posture. The movie feels improvised in nearly every scene though the quotable lines from a screenplay by Reid Carolin (who also plays Brooke's sort of boyfriend "Paul" in the film) suggest that it totally wasn't. Some of the movie's best laughs spring from its offhand observational manner like its disarming matter-of-fact introduction of "Big Dick" Ritchie. (Joseph Mangianello is looser and funnier as Ritchie than he's ever been as “Alcides” on True Blood, though not, unfortunately, more naked.) Some of Magic Mike’s best texture happens in the background where Ken (Matt Bomer) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) are seemingly always engaged in inane small talk in very tight underpants. 

Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh favors long takes here without cuts, which really puts you in the club, in the moment and with the actors. This ‘you are there’ atmosphere has obvious benefits in the movies frequent strip club scenes but it pays off in (slightly) more clothed scenes, too. When Mike pursues The Kid's uptight sister Brooke (Cody Horn) you're witnessing their entire wandering giggling flirtation which ends with a vision of such sun-dappled dreaminess that the movie theater is temporarily transformed into a sand bar party.

Soderbergh's trust in his star performer’s on camera ease and charm is repaid with the actor's best and most lived-in performance yet. The movie was loosely inspired by Channing's own brief stint as a male stripper five years before Hollywood came calling and to the star's great credit and our entertainment, he isn’t interesting in hiding his past, his feelings or his body. When Chan dives backwards into the water in that aforementioned Act One scene,  there's no opportunity to slip in a body double or stunt man as there are no edits whatsoever.

The same goes for the super authentic strip scenes. Though they have more editing, there are no body doubles, just bodies. Bodies by God… and personal chefs and trainers and seven hour daily workouts.

fine funny performances across the board

The amusing choreography, which gyrates around between big time and amateur hour, is presumably the work of Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the club's owner and emcee. McConaughey gets the showiest role and finally finds that signature role that's alluded him all these years. Dallas may be a small time Tampa club owner but he carries himself like a stadium ready rock star with the conviction and charisma of a religious figure, the leader of his own Cult of Seven Thongs. While he's great and eerily serious about the autoeroticism once he finally takes center stage, the actor is even better in scenes where he's paired with the possible future versions of himself in Mike (the "star" he's groomed for years) and The Kid, who'll do if Mike is unavailable. His funny and very hands on pelvis on training of The Kid is the single truest snapshot of how game this entire cast is for self-exploitation, uninhibited comedy, and real acting, too.  It'd be Oscar Nomination #1 for McConaughey if anyone thinks to take a movie about male strippers seriously and doesn't mind the thought of an Oscar clip that contains glistening close up of the star’s glutes, somersaulting toward the camera. (In other words: That Oscar nomination will be very hard to come by.)

Cody Horn as "Brooke"There are moments during “August” that you could argue fall on the wrong side of cliché and judgmental attitudes about Mike's "lifestyle" but even the movie’s most conservative character (Brooke, the love interest) has a distinct personality and Magic Mike never pretends that her inhibitions equal a lack of libido. Soderbergh makes the very smart decision to let us watch her watching Mike’s act and even if she’s uncomfortable with his exhibitionism, she’s obviously just as hypnotized as the next (far-more-inebriated) girl. She can’t pull her eyes away from him. 

Magic Mike has rude laughs, heartfelt drama, smart filmmaking and character development (!!!). Against all odds its Soderbergh's best film since his Erin Brockovich. All that plus more pecs, abs and ass than you’ve seen onscreen since… maybe ever? (No, internet porn does not count.)  May Magic Mike be such a gargantuan hit that Hollywood is forced to make male strippers the new superheroes. 

I think we should be its best friend and see it thrice.

 

Grade: A-
Oscar Chances: Matthew McConaughey is its best shot in Supporting Actor and given the year he's currently / about to have, it might not be as far fetched as I'm saying. But it's unfortunately tough to imagine Hollywood as a whole, viewing this as anything more than a good popcorn Trash. Too bad because there are several noteworthy elements and shouldn't the 'Cock Rocking Kings of Tampa' and their ladies (I didn't even mention Olivia Munn who is terrific in a key role) be naturals for a SAG ensemble nod...

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Reader Comments (24)

Where's the gay? O' I get it purposely avoided in the script in order to make the primarily hetero cast feel at ease with the material since there's no homo elements to make them all nervous and back out at the last minute. A gay director certainly would've made a different film that's more alive than Sort-of-Boring.

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

4rtful -- errrr, um. why would it be gay?

July 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Have to say, the reviews of this so far are way beyond my expectations. It seemed all dessert - now it seems intriguingly like it might be a main course.

Dan Savage tweeted about it being a bit sex-negative, and you allude to that a bit in your review. Problem or not so much?

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaika

I have it on fairly good authority that male strippers who work in front of female crowds are more likely to be straight than gay.

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

Liz -- as do I. I was trying to find a stripper to interview (a lot of blogs had the same idea so no great loss that I didn't manage it) but the only people who knew any personally were straight girls and the guys they suggested were all straight. One, who worked for Chippendales some years ago said she didn't know a single gay man employed there (as a stripper) at the time.

Laika -- i don't think it's that big a problem (given that the sex isn't viewed as the problem so much as the absence of other things in the relatonships) but, yeah, it's not entirely Yay, Sex!

July 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Who would've thought that Channing Tatum would be a three-time winner this year. Wow. But, by all accounts, he is super nice and professional...so it's nice to see that good things happen to good people. Sometimes.

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I concur. Tatum has never been my cuppa -- he's no Warren Beatty -- but I do appreciate, woodeness aside, that he is not sheepish about his "gifts" or (seemingly) wary of public perception in a way that He. Must. Prove. Him. Self. Walberg 2.0?

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

The charming Mr Tatum is obviously smarter than he looks...

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Great read!

Maybe McConaughey can fill the spot opened by McCarthy last year, the unusual nominee, but with (rear) traction.

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I liked the film but I wish there had been more character development for Matt Bomer and Joe Mangianello and Adam Rodriguez. And less Channing Tatum who still bores me to death.
Alex P., Cody Horn, Matthew M. and Olivia Munn were all very good.

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

Gabriel -- yeah, i felt bad reading it back that i never even mentioned Olivia Munn who just kills the role. Loved her in this. and it's a really offhandedly interesting part.

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I grew up in the area the film was shot- and I have to say, I can't think of this film taking place anywhere else.

For me, the Tampa Bay locale of the film was almost another character and a perfect cradle for the events of the film (and not just because Tatum is from there, too).

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

I feel matthew will be this years downey jr from 2008.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermark

Given the subject matter, is it more likely that any nomination for McConaughey will be for the Paperboy? (Although that looks like all sorts of trashy fun in it's own right.)

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Ditto the fairly-confident prediction --and wholehearted endorsement-- of a McConnaughey Oscar nod. I've never enjoyed him more onscreen, and that's not (just) my sexuality talking.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Wow. I was not expecting this glowing an endorsement from you, Nathaniel. Though I admit the film held my attention throughout -- oddly enough, not because of stripping, which all seemed somewhat sterile and generic -- it all came off as so ordinary to me, and not in a particularly purposeful way.

We do agree on one thing, however. Olivia Munn is indeed fantastic. Talk about actressing on the edges. Hers is the story I desperately wanted to follow.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Not to be a downer, but while I thought it was well-made, well-edited, and had some fun shots (that close up of McConnaughey's tush!), I was extremely bored throughout most of the movie. You mentioned how a large portion of the movie felt improvised-- I agree-- and felt that many of those 'intimate' moments were drowned in the weight of their own self-importance. Tatum is a charismatic guy, but I don't think he was quite as charming as he thought he was in those scenes with Cody Horn. And Alex Pettyfer, while gorgeous, seemed completely lifeless to me.

In short, it's a film about people who don't quite have everything figured out like they think they do and I found the characters' plight more annoying than informative.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I enjoyed the movie but I'm really not sold on Channing Tatum as a movie star. He's a good dancer, yes, of course, but I detected no charisma or charm otherwise. There's no there there. His scenes with Cody Horn felt extremely flat to me although when he's working with better actors he's less irritating.

Speaking of better actors, McConaughey was utterly fabulous and I'll be crossing my fingers for him during awards time. I also thought Pettyfer was surprisingly good and wanted to spend more time with the rest of the strip crew.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAR

Nathaniel -- Glad you liked Olivia Munn. I thought she was such an unsettling character, doing so much with her few scenes. The scene where she comes on to Cody Horn was really good. Also her last scene in the restaurant.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

I don't know. Maybe if you're going into this with low expectations you'll be pleasantly surprised. But this and other "hey, it's actually pretty good!" reviews might have raised my expectations too much. It was just OK. Tatum was charming, loose and funny but I did NOT buy his very last-minute turnaround/single-tear scene. I was going to say Cody Horn only had one expression but that's being generous. Plus it was completely frustrating that, having his pick of ladies, we have to watch Tatum pursue such a lifeless, sour, charm-free woman for two hours. The movie also never quite explains why Tatum keeps to such great lengths to help out Pettyfer's character.

I agree with the other comment that I wanted to know more about the other dancers. The movie treats them pretty much as slabs of meat to be looked at just as much as the women in the audience do.

And that druggie-freak-out sequence? So boring. Sorry, Mr. Soderbergh, you actually might want to try something more than just applying a blue filter, then a red a filer and then that's it.

But McConaughey and Pettyfer were very game and Tatum's dance sequences were pretty great. Overall it was 30 minutes of fun trapped in a 2-hour movie.

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Good post. We loved this movie! Check out our experience with it: http://northparkcenterdallas.tumblr.com/post/27068481579/summer-sundresses-based-on-body-type

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNorthPark Center

From the battlefields of Iraq to the steamy stages of Chippendale's and the bedrooms of the ultra-rich and famous of Hollywood and Broadway, former marine turned male escort reveals the inspirational true story of his journey from depravity to redemption. From the back alleyways of Hollywood's hard mean streets to an offer of one million dollars as exclusive personal sex toy to the wealthy wives of Manhattan's Park Avenue - not since "American Gigolo" has the raw underbelly of the private sex world of the stars been so lucidly revealed.
SUNSET AND GOMORRAH AVAILABLE ON KINDLE/AMAZON NOW!

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRon McKinney

From the battlefields of Iraq to the steamy stages of Chippendale's and the bedrooms of the ultra-rich and famous of Hollywood and Broadway, former marine turned male escort reveals the inspirational true story of his journey from depravity to redemption. From the back alleyways of Hollywood's hard mean streets to an offer of one million dollars as exclusive personal sex toy to the wealthy wives of Manhattan's Park Avenue - not since "American Gigolo" has the raw underbelly of the private sex world of the stars been so lucidly revealed.
SUNSET AND GOMORRAH AVAILABLE ON KINDLE/AMAZON NOW!

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRon McKinney

From the battlefields of Iraq to the steamy stages of Chippendale's and the bedrooms of the ultra-rich and famous of Hollywood and Broadway, former marine turned male escort reveals the inspirational true story of his journey from depravity to redemption. From the back alleyways of Hollywood's hard mean streets to an offer of one million dollars as exclusive personal sex toy to the wealthy wives of Manhattan's Park Avenue - not since "American Gigolo" has the raw underbelly of the private sex world of the stars been so lucidly revealed.
SUNSET AND GOMORRAH AVAILABLE ON KINDLE/AMAZON NOW!

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRon
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