Magic Mike (2012)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Reid Carolin

The world of hot dancing, hotter bodies and male stripping is not one with which I have associated myself, not was it one I was keen to see a film about. The subject of the film Magic Mike is different enough, and out of my comfort zone for sure. I had no real intention to ever see this film, especially with Channing Tatum, whose soulless, stonefaced performances in movies past have left me unaffected, though he surprised me with his comedic chops in 21 Jump Street from earlier this year. No, this film was seen by me for two reasons, and two pretty strong reasons. Number one is simply that I had a free pass to see the film before it opened, and quite simply I will see absolutely any movie if it’s for free, Number two, and perhaps the more important of the two, is that the film is directed by Steven Soderergh (Ocean’s Trilogy, Traffic, The Girlfriend Experience).

Some have said that Soderbergh has lost his touch in the last ten years, not directing films near the quality of his earlier work, but I say, “So what, they’re still darn good.” And what I love most about a director like Soderbergh is his ability to reach outside the realm of mainstream and create interesting, smaller films. This one falls somewhere in the middle thanks to the marketing, which rightfully so was directed at women wanting to see a film about male strippers. But the film is deeper than that, following “Magic” Mike (Tatum) as he struggles to save money for his dream enterprise, a custom furniture company. He works many jobs, but his most consistent gig is as a male stripper. But when he takes a young Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, things heat up between him and Adam’s sister (Cody Horn), and begin to break down between he and his business partner and stripclub owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).

From my perspective, this movie is all wrong for me for a number of reasons, but I have always had the ability to meet a film halfway and at least pick out the positives, but honestly, this movie is not half bad. It is such a weird situation that my expectations were non-existent. Does Tatum ruin the film with his bad acting? No, but it’s there. Does Soderbergh craft a classic with his magical touch? No, but again, that touch is there. There seems to be a meeting in the middle in this film, which produces a completely watchable, if slightly uncomfortable, film. Let me note right off that there is plenty of stripping in this film, but only marginal full on nudity. But one of the first faults I can find with the film is the time spent depicting the dance routines.

It is certainly something that needs to be shown, and is expected by the audience, but the film could have been about 10 minutes shorter if some of the dancing, which never really pushed the plot forward or developed the characters much, were cut from the film. An alternative could have been to spend more time with some of the side characters, the other dancers, that didn’t get any screen time. Or spend more time with the cute, budding romance between Mike and Adam’s sister Brooke. That relationship felt right and was a highlight of the film. And that is also where Soderbergh’s steady hands comes in to play. He handles the material quite nicely, though at times it did feel uneven. It very much felt like an indie plot and delivery, but Soderbergh handles the pacing of the film quite nicely.

The script is probably the weak spot, feeling underdeveloped in terms of actual plot. The conflict in the film feels very rushed in near the end with very little development and as such it feels slight in its ability to create stakes in the film to actually care about. The acting is not great either, though passable, as the film incorporates many inexperienced actors in major roles, something Soderbergh likes to do and manages to get fair results. But the real gem here has to be McConaughey. I am not sure if he is trying or not, but his performance is genius. Pure comedic genius and easily the funniest I have seen all year. In the end, what we end up with is a mishmash of good scenes, poor scenes, unnecessary dance scenes which the females would probably enjoy anyway, and a lot of wasted characters who serve very little purpose in the film. It is a solidly directed film with some promise of being even better, but ultimately it is too messy to recommend to anyone who didn’t want to see it in the first place.

**1/2 – Good

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