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Wednesday, June 27, 2012
In Tampa, Midnight Cowboys And Full Monties
Strippers on parade: Matthew McConaughey (center) flanked by Alex Pettyfer and
Channing Tatum in Steven Soderbergh's comedy-drama "Magic Mike".
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Wednesday, June 27,
It is inevitable in a filmography
boasting such titles as "Full Frontal" and
Girlfriend Experience" -- two films about overexposure -- that
would direct "Magic Mike" (from Reid Corolin's screenplay), which initially
captures the energy of Channing Tatum's eight months as a teenage stripper in an
all-male revue. Mr. Tatum is excellent as the title character, a
30-something running out of money and options as an entrepreneur while showing
19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) the ropes at Xquisite, the male strip club
owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).
Mike performs all the right moves on stage but his mind is scattered. A
fun-loving, sharp-witted muscle guy with a hip-hop lilt in his voice, Mike has
no problem getting ladies to throw their money at him as he strips (and some
women in the movie audience will want to as well.) He's saved thousands of
dollars -- mainly in one-dollar bills but "there's some fives in there" -- for a
business venture that will supersede his ongoing business endeavors.
Brooke (Cody Horn) hopes that Mike, who engages in threesomes with "fuck-buddy"
Joanna (Olivia Munn), can stay focused long enough to keep the impressionable
Adam on the rails. Mr. Tatum combines brain and brawn in Mike and exudes
vulnerability. He's much more than mere muscle or a pretty boy face: this
man can act, and even in substandard films ("Dear John",
he is very good.
"Magic Mike" is an entertaining treat for men and women, its atmosphere of
spectacle on an intimate scale evoking the character-driven fare of 1970s
American films. The fairer sex will get its eyeful of male skin and
phalluses if little else in this, Mr. Soderbergh's 26th film. "Magic Mike"
however, wades around feeling for its story, searching for its anchor as much as
its lead character does. To that end, "Magic Mike" takes a while to find
its dramatic center, and before it does we get lessons on the architecture of
stripping, with funny moments from Mr. McConaughey, riveting here as Dallas, in
a role the oft-topless actor -- who's having a great film year -- has perhaps
subconsciously led up to. Dallas could be said to have bigger visions than
his stomach can possibly hold but his wide-eyed ambition is admirable despite
being a more self-centered sort than he'd readily admit.
Mr. McConaughey struts and instructs enthusiastically with the winning charm of
an eager boy scout and tenacity of a pit-bull or physical education teacher.
Every single muscle in his torso is popping, stretched and displayed, and he
could have a tattoo stenciled on each one. There's enough bicep flexing,
muscle-popping, butt-shaking and hip-gyrating to keep the ladies in the
moviegoing audience satisfied.
Despite Mr. Soderbergh's exquisite cinematography capturing golden-rayed
fantasies and electric performers (as well as excellent choreography by Alison
Faulk) there's little to penetrate the surface of Mr. Corolin's thin but witty
script. Throughout, "Magic Mike" has to keep itself busy with puns but I
felt it could have spent some of that time exploring more serious matters
(though in more ways than one we see glimpses of the cracks in some characters.)
Clichés finally catch up to "Magic Mike" to make a sometimes interesting film a
merely conventional one. In such scenes you feel the director is smarter
and knows better than to fall for the okey-doke.
Mr. Soderbergh's dramedy is a sanguine edition of "Midnight Cowboy" as a tale of
a lonely man looking to find his way while chaperoning a younger version of
himself through life as he dips his toes in the stripping trade. Mike
prostitutes himself into delusionary visions; he can't see beyond the length or
size of his physical talents. There's a close-up shot in "Magic Mike" that
recalls John Schlesinger's shot of Brenda Vaccaro's hands gripping and pulling
the skin on Jon Voight's back during a sexual episode.
One of the strongest things about "Magic Mike" is its portrayal of showmanship
and camaraderie among its male brotherhood. So often we see women
objectified on the big screen, and in films on strippers ("Showgirls") or
Of Pleasures") we see women bonding. Here the men (including
pro-wrestler Kevin Nash, known in such circles as "Big Sexy" but here as Tarzan)
have a gay old time early on in a scene involving the neophyte Adam.
These muscular men make money with muscle: in Michael Mann parlance they are
their job, even if Mike is in denial about that. These men are into their
jobs so much they hardly see the women in their off-stage lives. They are
lifers in the strip game but we rarely if ever see their scars or get to see
beyond what they do on stage. They appear to be happy with their mundane
but exciting work but are they satisfied with their lives in total?
Mr. Soderbergh is adept at capturing mood and tone in his work, doing so very
well in last year's
"Contagion", in the aforementioned "Girlfriend
Experience" and in January's
"Haywire", which also featured Mr. Tatum.
In "Magic Mike" there's a mature, speakeasy feel to some conversations
especially in the film's last few scenes. Ms. Horn is especially good even
if her character Brooke isn't given much foundation (we know little of her
background.) Brooke seems to hang around the edges of the film waiting to
be discovered or unearthed, and her relationship with her brother Adam feels
underdeveloped. They don't appear especially close. One key scene
between them, while dramatically truthful, rings false character-wise, and some
over-acting rears its ugly head.
Yet "Magic Mike" almost achieves the impossible by eating its cake and keeping
it. The film plays as a documentary and diary of one man's journey in the
strip world while commenting on the adult performance industry's staidness
despite its nighttime excitement (and daytime realities.) This specter
alone is fascinating and entertaining but beyond that there's little else.
These muscle men are image symbols of the American Dream (literally so in one
stage sequence) yet they are forever chasing it. Some of them, maybe all
of them, realize too late that the American Dream has long since left them
behind. The irony is that these men display the essence and confidence of
who they are in their work yet are far from grounded as people, isolated and
consumed by the plastic pleasures their night dances bring.
"Magic Mike" is also a commentary on how men are viewed (and toyed with) by
women, shown as more boisterous and intelligent than their male counterparts.
It's sly theater -- the objectification of men by male and female characters as
well as by the filmmakers -- in the choice of shots used. There are
halting, contemplative conversations between Mike and some of the women he
meets. One talk is a reverse on what you'd expect a seducing man to say to
a woman. Often lurking nearby in some of the film's unisex interactions is
an additional male as if on standby, whose presence seems to speak: "not so fast
buddy -- you're not clear to land here."
With: Matt Bomer, Riley Keough, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel
"Magic Mike" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America
for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use. The film's
running time is one hour and 50 minutes. In theaters in the U.S. and
Canada on Thursday at midnight.
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