A film review by Craig J. Koban October 31, 2012


2012, R, 110 mins.


Mike: Channing Tatum / Dallas: Matthew McConaughey / Adam: Alex Pettyfer / Sal James: Martin Kelly / Tarzan: Kevin Nash / Joanna: Olivia Munn / Ken: Matt Bomer

Directed by Steven Soderbergh / Written by Reid Carolin.

MAGIC MIKE is not for me, seeing that it’s based on the world of exotic male stripping.  I’m just not its target demographic.   

The only thing that I can do, as a result, is to look at and critique Steven Soderbergh’s latest film in a more purely clinical fashion, analyzing what it’s doing and how well it does it.   Does it appeal to its target audience (ostensibly women)?  Undoubtedly (in the same manner, I guess, that a film like SHOWGIRLS appeased male-centric audiences).  Is it entertaining?  Mostly.  Is it filmed with skill and precision?  Certainly.  Are its performances strong?  In one particular case, for sure.  Is it worth seeing beyond its obvious parade of hot man candy on display?  I guess…sort of. 

Let me be fair (and rather blunt): The reason for this film’s gargantuan box office success earlier this year was the notion of its largely female audience witnessing the hunky conglomeration of some of Hollywood’s most chiseled specimens strutting, shaking, thrusting, and, yes, stripping to next to nothing on a large screen.  Part of the issue, though, with MAGIC MIKE is that it sometimes can’t decide whether it wants to be an overt and sensationalistic exploitation flick or a gritty and somewhat depressing warts and all exploration of the utter shallowness of the stripping profession.  There are moments in the film where Soderbergh seems to condemn these men while observing all the lurid details of their vocation, but then there are other moments where the film just revels in its slick, colorful, oftentimes humorous, and athletic hubris that highlights these shows.   MAGIC MIKE effortlessly captures the on and back stage drama that makes male strip venues so popular, but as for what Soderbergh is trying to say about his subjects, I’m left a bit confused. 

The film certainly has meaning for its star, Channing Tatum (also serving as producer here), who once was a young 19-year-old male stripper in Tampa, Florida before becoming a model and film actor.  The screenplay – based on Tatum’s experiences mixed with a whole lot of dramatic embellishment – involves Mike (Tatum) as a rather beefy non-union construction worker by day and a super dexterous male stripper by night that makes women of various age groups swoon.  He works at the Xquisite Male Dance Revue, a somewhat grimy and aging strip joint run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, oozing reptilian charisma), an aging former stripper turned entrepreneur.  Mike too has dreams on entrepreneurship, as he has been saving money for some time to open his own “custom furniture” store, which he hopes to open so that he can get out of the stripper gig for good.  As for now, his night job pays...and rather well. 



Mike’s life becomes a bit more complicated with the appearance of the 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who shows up one day as a rather lazy construction worker that gets fired quickly.  He lives with his cute sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), who seems to be growing increasingly irritated by the day at her sibling's lack of career ambition.  Mike decides to give the down-on-his-luck Adam a break and introduces him to his nocturnal stripping life, and Dallas immediately sees some potential for the well-built young Adam.  After a rather awkward and impromptu first strip attempt by Adam in front of a live audience of ravenous and screaming females, he is given more shots at becoming the next “big thing” for the club, taking pointers from both Dallas and Mike, the latter who becomes a surrogate big brother for him.  Yet, just as Adam becomes successful, he allows himself to succumb to the sins of alcohol and drugs, which leaves “Magic Mike” grim about his own very future in the business.  

There are times when MAGIC MIKE plays like a poor man’s BOOGIE NIGHTS morphed with SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.  In some small ways, MAGIC MIKE appropriates BOOGIE NIGHTS’ style of focusing on the day-to-day minutia of its flesh-heavy business and - like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER - it shows young characters that try to achieve stardom but are beset by many of life’s inevitable roadblocks.  What’s interesting is that the film is far more nihilistic than its advertising campaign lets on: Once you look past the film‘s hook of parading around perfectly toned specimens showing off their goods, MAGIC MIKE does a bit more than overtly glorifying its more tawdry elements (even though, at times, it doesn't).  It’s not a light or cheesy film either, per se, but rather one that hones in more on the numbing extremes of the job. 

Tatum is an actor that I’m warming over to, even though I still believe he’s better suited for comedy than drama (see 21 JUMP STREET).  He’s fairly adequate playing Mike and his arc, but he really stands out in terms of his rugged athleticism and virtuoso dance moves on stage, which Soderbergh films to ensure audiences that, yup, his star is indeed doing it all himself.  If anything, it’s kind of commendable that Tatum is comfortable to acknowledge his shady past and revisit it for the purposes of a dramatic narrative.  Most other actors, I’m sure, would like to have their pre-film-careers in disreputable professions stay carefully guarded secrets, but Tatum is secure enough to lay it all out in the forefront, not to mention that he seems to embrace the more nagging insecurities and anxieties that his character has with exotic dancing.  

The other performances range from great to mediocre.  Alex Pettyfer is physically note perfect for his role of the up-and-comer that hits rock bottom after achieving quick success, but he lacks the acting chops required to make his emotional transformation credible (the whole character’s subplot also seem awfully telegraphed as well).  Most of the other actors here as Mike’s stripping colleagues are fine, but Soderbergh seems disinterested in developing them thoroughly and with dimension.  The real stand-out, though, is McConaughey who plays a Yoda-like mentor to all of his employees and certainly acts like a noble father figure that can easily, at any given moment, turn on them with toxic hostility.  The perpetually shirtless McConaughey here has not been this well cast and creepily persuasive in a role in years; he just seems to be able to play Svengalli-like and double-dealing a-holes in his sleep.  

MAGIC MIKE looks good on a technical level, as Soderbergh gives the film a consummate sheen of concise and creative camera work and cinematography (he shoots his films under a pseudonym cinematographer credit) and seems to take great relish in the choreography and production values of the stripper shows, all of which are kind of innovatively staged, although perhaps a bit too glitzy and slick considering Dallas’s low tech establishment.  Yet, Soderbergh seems too coldly and cynically detached with the overall material to invest more deeply in it (many subplots, for example, like Mike’s relationship with a group-sex loving psychology major – played well by Olivia Munn – and his later courtship of Brooke seems perfunctorily handled and lacking compelling interest).  

That, and I ultimately just couldn’t really tell if Soderbergh wanted MAGIC MIKE to be a cautionary tale about the business or a lewd commemoration of it.  For the hordes of amorous women standing in line to see the film when it was released months ago, MAGIC MIKE was essentially critic proof.  As for the rest of us more scrutinizing male viewers, this is a decidedly lesser Soderbergh film in his otherwise stellar canon.  Nonetheless, I can appreciate why women love it; it does give them what they crave. 

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