Magic Mike (2012) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConoughey, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Joe Manganiello, Gabriel Iglesias, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer
Small role: Riley Keough
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Reid Carolin
Review published August 18, 2017

Director Steven Soderbergh (Haywire, Ocean's Thirteen) continues to expand his horizons by taking on the world of male strippers, something that is always tantalizing, and yet rarely has gotten big-screen treatment from Hollywood in the past.

The screenplay isn't much to speak of, written by Reid Carolin (Earth Made of Glass, Magic Mike XXL), based loosely on some of Channing Tatum's own experiences while working as a stripper. With Soderbergh at the helm, we can at least be assured that it will be a lively audio-visual experience, and more substantial than most would expect a film to be regarding hunky men who dance and gyrate while taking their clothing off.

The titular Mike (Tatum, 21 Jump Street) is a dancer for an all-male revue in Tampa, but he considers himself an entrepreneur, and has dreams of doing more with his life when it is all said and done, putting away money to invest into his chosen future line of business designing furniture.  At the beginning of the film, we find Mike taking a wayward slacker 19-year-old named Adam (Pettyfer, In Time), who is unemployed and living with his medical assistant sister Brooke (Horn, End of Watch), under his wing, offering him a chance to become part of the ensemble of male studs to parade their technique and wares around for the screaming and mostly intoxicated women of the region.

Adam is our everyman introduction into this peculiar and mostly unattainable world of shaved and buffed-out men, a complete neophyte to the industry, learning the ropes but also succumbing to the allure of the many vices that are on display for those whose job it is to lure women to the venue and keep them entranced into the fantasy elements of the show.  Easy money is the answer to why those seek to live this life, but sometimes the fast-track to instant finances leads to closing doors of opportunity down the road, though Mike sees it as the only means to an end once he makes his bed with it.

As far as acting goes, it's not exactly strong, but still well cast, especially in the dynamic Channing Tatum in his performance both as a young schmuck trying to do good, as well as in the very well choreographed hip-hop dance performances while on the stage.  Though not without ample screen time, it's hard to know just what makes Mike tick, perhaps because, at this stage of his life, he isn't clear about who he is and what he wants, even though he is building toward an exit route to the stripping life.  Matthew McConoughey (Mud) has screen presence and acting chops, though he shows off his toned bod more than anything, as well as his most famous catchphrase several times, "Alright, alright, alright".  His dance skills are passable, if I'm being charitable.

On the direction front, Soderbergh is pulling together much of what he's done before in other recent films, including tinkering with the tinting of the lensing to accentuate yellows and greens, combining montage with catchy songs, fluid camera movements and cinematography, and allowing a good deal of improvisational conversation within the course of the dialogue.  Drama comes through in tangential forms, with Adam not having the right compass to steer away from additional means to make easy money, such as pushing pills and other illicit acts, some of which might prove his undoing.  Meanwhile, it's also a learning experience for Mike, who sees in Adam's arc the pitfalls and perils of the life around him should the money begin to dry up.

While its pleasures may primarily reside on the surface level, Magic Mike still overcomes its salaciousness with rounded characterizations and an interesting look at the main players in an industry that doesn't get much spotlight other than for eye candy or the occasional sight gag.  It's still flashy, but with a bit of substance too, concentrating more on the eccentric personalities behind the scenes of adult entertainment.  It ends incomplete, as we don't quite know what happens from where the film leaves off, but Soderbergh is more interested in the exploration of the life of strippers and not whether Mike ends up finding happiness in this world anywhere else.

It isn't all flash, as themes of a life to achieve after the fun and games have lost their luster play out.  There are also commercial considerations, finding creativity and art in performance but in a way that will still draw in and dazzle the primarily female clientele just looking for a great escapist time with hot men. Life's not all rosy for the dancers though, as Mike finds it hard to get financing for his dream to open his own custom furniture business, despite having ready cash for a down payment available.  Nevertheless, as Mike matures, he also discovers that  sometimes your dreams when you're a young man can also make way for new dreams and different directions.  This is something that no doubt would also be on the mind of Soderbergh, who would retire (for a few years) from directing in order to pursue other avenues while he recharged his batteries.

Magic Mike will no doubt have an audience that primarily appreciates the well-cut male bodies, the film also is of appeal to straight men as well, as a wish-fulfillment kind of story about guys who make lots of money, get plenty of women, and who get to drink and party with their bros all day.  Not a bad gig, as gigs go, so long as you aren't looking to take out a loan.

Qwipster's rating:

2017 Vince Leo