Film Review: “Magic Mike”

by Jason LeRoy on June 29, 2012

Joe Manganiello, Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer and Alex Pettyfer in MAGIC MIKE

starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Olivia Munn, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias, Betsy Brandt, Riley Keough

written by: Reid Carolin

directed by: Steven Soderbergh

MPAA: Rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use

There is very little to dislike about Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s breathlessly (or heavy-breathlessly) anticipated new drama loosely based on Channing Tatum’s pre-fame experience as an exotic dancer in Florida. It is fast, fun, and buoyantly entertaining. Some have compared it to Boogie Nights in the sense that it humanizes those in the sex industry, but while Magic Mike is not without its inevitable drug-related subplot, it has nothing approaching the graphic gut-check horror of that film. This is a breezy and affable affair, elevated from a formulaic script by Soderbergh’s artful direction. Also: ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS.

Ahem. “Magic” Mike (Tatum) is a Tampa-based man who considers himself to be an entrepreneur (and if this movie doesn’t mint the seedy connotation of that dubious word, I don’t know what will). He’s pretty much your classic Tampa triple-threat: construction worker/furniture designer/stripper. But furniture design is what he’s the most passionate about, viewing his other forms of income as the means by which he will eventually be able to fund his own furniture business. Mike certainly isn’t ashamed of his stripping, nor does he have any Nomi Malone “I’m a dancer!” delusions about what he does on that stage.

Which is as good a segue as any to address male stripping as depicted by Magic Mike. This film should by no means be viewed as a gritty expose on the realities of stripping. First of all, it is about men who dance exclusively for female audiences. They are never fully nude, and the subject of dancing for men is never broached. In short, they’ve got it easy. Because let’s face it, men are far grosser strip club patrons than women. I say this as the former (non-performing) employee of a fully nude male strip club that catered primarily to male clients. Even at their most obnoxiously drunk and grabby, female strip club patrons are rays of shrieking sunshine compared to the general air of masturbatory sleaze that clouds most men in these settings. Simply put, the male gaze is more demeaning than the female gaze, which allows the dancers in Magic Mike to feel like the self-proclaimed “cock-rocking kings of Tampa” rather than desperate and (self-)exploited people. I am not saying that it’s impossible to feel empowered while stripping for a male audience (check out Diablo Cody’s memoir Candy Girl for a thoughtful and intelligent treatise on this subject); I am merely emphasizing that the experience of the dancers in this film is closer to that of rock stars than regional strippers.

Which is presumably the point. Tatum, Soderbergh, and first-time screenwriter Reid Carolin want to de-stigmatize stripping to the point that the question is no longer “Why be a stripper?”, but rather, “Why not be a stripper?” This certainly becomes the question for Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a defiantly lazy and immature 19-year-old whom Mike meets at his construction site. Adam hasn’t been doing much except crashing on the couch of his hard-working sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). Similarly to Mike, he feels like he is destined for greater things; unlike Mike, he doesn’t yet understand that hard work usually has to come before success. One fateful night, Adam crosses paths with Mike at a nightclub where he is picking up women to see the strip show. Adam is shocked to learn that Mike is a stripper, but when Mike explains to him the aforementioned rock star definition of stripping (women, money, parties), Adam agrees to tag along.

Once he’s at the club, he meets the other dancers in the relatively small trou-dropping troupe: Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash, who resembles present-day Mickey Rourke to a truly unfortunate degree), and, of course, Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello). None of these characters are developed to any meaningful degree, so just enjoy looking at them. More importantly, there is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the intensely friendly yet somewhat sinister owner/emcee of the club. When Tarzan is unable to do his number that night (thank god), Mike shoves Adam onto the stage to test him out. After an awkward start, he nails it (pun intended) with arguably the films’s sexiest dance (at least if you’re a fan of amateur Broke Straight Guys-type sites), and is welcomed into the group. Mike becomes best friends with Adam and also begins to court Brooke (who says strippers can’t court?). But while Mike promises Brooke he will keep Adam safe, the peripheral vices of the Tampa cock-rocking lifestyle gradually prove to be a bit too tempting.

Carolin’s script is unabashedly by-the-numbers, but as he did earlier this year with Haywire, Soderbergh heightens the material with enough beguiling art direction and naturalistic acting to amount to more than the sum of its bronzed, thrusting parts. He evokes a seductively sun-drenched Florida reminiscent of Larry Clark’s Bully, another film in which there wasn’t much to do except take your clothes off and get high. And with his famously thorough rehearsal- and improv-based acting standards, Soderbergh elicits pitch-perfect performances from his cast, all of whom seem to understand exactly what movie they are in. Tatum continues his transformation into one of Hollywood’s most dependably charming young actors with yet another winning performance, deserving further commendation for its personally revealing nature.

Pettyfer plays the cocky, entitled Adam almost too well; this performance will do little to combat the likability problem he has battled since the failure of I Am Number Four in early 2011. Cody Horn is remarkably authentic and unforced as Brooke. Bomer, Manganiello, Rodriguez, and Nash each commit with a total lack of inhibition. Olivia Munn has a particularly well-played turn as Mike’s fuck-buddy, and Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad) has a perfectly realized scene with Tatum. And then there’s McConaughey. Let’s just say that he really out-McConaugheys himself this time. His performance is such a mocking distillation of his shirtless bongo-playing public persona, it seems unlikely that he even had any scripted lines; rather, it just said “Dallas: [VAMP],” Newsroom-style. But all is not as smooth as it seems with Dallas, and McConaughey does an expertly slow reveal of his more menacing edges.

But I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’ve kept you waiting for over a thousand words before getting to the most important part: THE ASS REPORT! So okay, the first ass we see is Tatum’s, and it’s a doozy. The mere sight of it caused my theater to erupt into a yowling, clapping, stomping, wig-tossing frenzy (and by “my theater,” I mean me). Munn also shows her breasts in this scene, which earned a few golf claps from the anguished straight men in attendance eager to demarcate themselves as such. And other than Tatum, the only ass we really see is Pettyfer’s. Or at least, that’s the only other completely bare ass we see. Because not to be an ass-purist or anything, but wearing a thong is just not the same thing as showing your bare ass, am I right? Aesthetically, it’s a whole other kettle of ass-fish.

The rest of the asses are clad in thongs, which can still be nice (Matt Bomer), if a bit disappointing. This is also a wang-free production, with the exception of Big Dick Richie’s comically exaggerated silhouette and what I can only assume is a prosthetic featured in a penis pump. The film is mostly free of sex scenes, so the nudity takes places almost entirely within the club setting. And although the nudity isn’t as excessive as we may have hoped, Tatum’s explosively sexual dancing is impressive enough to make up for it. It is also worth pointing out that Tatum and Pettyfer actually have a fairly intense thong-clad group fight scene, if that’s your thing. In fact, whatever your thing is, Magic Mike probably has at least a glimpse of it.

Magic Mike opens nationwide today.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon Elgart June 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm

How did you decide how many times to say ASS?

Reply

Jason LeRoy June 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I just kept typing it until a voice in my head whispered, “and…there.”

Reply

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