Review: Magic Mike


Magic Mike

Magic Mike is aimed at two mostly divergent groups of filmgoers: Steven Soderbergh fans and people who want to see Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey all but naked (as opposed to all butt naked, I suppose, although I do recall Tatum actually being butt naked in one scene).

Sadly, Soderbergh's feature about the sordid world of male strippers is unlikely to please either camp. Oh, there is plenty of well oiled and tanned beefcake; based on the reactions of the mostly female audience at the screening I attended, those who seek nothing more than male eye candy will like what they see. But a parade of perfect pecs, abs and glutes does not a great movie make, and the eye-candy crowd may find the rest of the film mostly dull. As for Soderbergh fans? They'll likely agree with me that this is far from the talented filmmaker's best work.

The titular Magic Mike (Tatum) is a stripper who dabbles in other business ventures when not doing the bump and grind before legions of tipsy, rowdy women at a Tampa strip club. Mike recruits fellow construction worker Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to earn a few extra bucks doing odd jobs in the club. When a stripper gets too drunk to perform, club owner Dallas (McConaughey) sends 19-year-old Adam -- who's never set foot in a male strip club before, much less danced -- on stage to entertain the ladies, which he does all too well.

While Adam finds a new career in the skin trade, Mike tries to find funding for his dream venture, an unlikely enterprise in which he builds furniture out of surplus military hardware. Meanwhile, Adam's sedate, no-nonsense sister Brooke (Cody Horn) finds her brother's new job both repellent and intriguing ... that is, intriguing enough to flirt with Mike and hang with the other strippers, if reluctantly.

The rest of the story isn't much of a story, really. There is some romance, drug dealing, lots of substance abuse and an always entertaining string of creatively silly stripping routines. (Why do the male strippers go to such lengths of costuming and choreography, while their female counterparts do little more than swing around poles in thongs? Someone really should write a master's thesis on this subject, and I'll bet someone has.) Some of the story's bits and pieces work well, but the collection of these mildly entertaining scenes doesn't add up to a meaningful narrative.

Magic Mike lacks any theme much beyond "Male strippers party a lot." There are several attempts at drama and poignancy; some of these scenes are well written, with clever, snappy dialogue. But there is no strong narrative arc to make them very meaningful and no character development to make us care whether Mike gets his business loan or Adam hooks up with one of the strippers' many female hangers-on. When the guys aren't dancing, the film feels directionless and listless, like the strippers the morning after a drug-fueled all-nighter.

The sole spark of interest in Magic Mike is McConaughey's strutting, slightly goofy turn as Dallas. He borders on self-parody in many scenes, as if he's a McConaughey impersonator in a late-night TV comedy skit, lambasting McConaughy for overacting in the role. But somehow his antics work well; when he's prancing about in front of the ladies, rallying his employees during a show or singing an awful country-folk tune while strumming a guitar, he's a total hoot -- and the only memorable character in an otherwise forgettable film. (Magic Dallas would be a much better movie.)

The other actors do what they can with their half-written parts, but it's hard to shine in a film full of one-dimensional characters who mostly just need to look pretty. Tatum is believable as Mike; so is Pettyfer as the somewhat bewildered naïf Adam. But neither character has enough backstory to challenge the actors. Horn is very appealing as Brooke, one of the few voices of sanity in the film, but she also has little chance to explain her feelings and motivations.

There are some nice Soderbergh-esque touches in Magic Mike – an interesting shot here, a lazy, hazy, feel-good vibe there.  But the script (by Reid Carolin, not Soderbergh) is so lackluster that the director's many strengths don't quite save the film. Which is a pity, because there are plenty of ways Magic Mike could have been an interesting character study and commentary about sexual mores.  It's a sometimes entertaining romp with one very entertaining character, but nothing more.

Texas connections: Matthew McConaughey lives in Austin, and actor Matt Bomer, who plays one of the strippers, is from Spring, Texas.

Mc Conaughey

If you choose to see this silly film, see it to observe Mc Conaughey. His last dance/strip number on the stage is exquisite. I could not imagine anyone else playing Dallas. All in all it's a fun ride.