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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.33%
Worth A Look86.67%
Average: 3.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 6.67%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Magic Mike
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brett Gallman

"He doesn't do party tricks."
4 stars

Steven Soderbergh is often a surgeon with a camera--he doesn’t capture his subjects as much as he examines them, picks them apart, and strips them of their pretensions. He distills things down to a basic, human essence that’s almost at odds with the clinically distant approach, and he’s up to this same trick in “Magic Mike,” a film centered around male-stripping. It’s a film ostensibly about sex, but, like “The Girlfriend Experience,” it is sometimes a decidedly un-sexy dissection of an empty lifestyle.

The director lets the air out of the balloon almost immediately when Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) saunters onto the stage of Club Xquisite, the seedy little Tampa strip joint that he owns. He oozes machismo as he relays the rules of the game and works his hooting, cat-calling audience up to a frenzied climax before Soderbergh denies the audience its orgasm with a cold cutaway. A title card tells us it’s June, and we’re suddenly plopped into an airless morning-after encounter between Mike (Channing Tatum) and one of his (presumably) many conquests (Olivia Munn).

Mike is Soderbergh’s real subject, a thirty year-old would-be entrepreneur who’s been the main attraction at Xquisite for a while now. On the side, he works construction, and a roofing job leads to an encounter with Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19 year old college drop-out who traded in the football field for his sister’s (Cody Horn) couch. The two strike up a friendship that eventually draws Adam into Mike’s world, and the allure of money and women proves hard to resist.

Too hard, perhaps. What follows is really a typical old Hollywood cautionary tale beset by backstabbing, the perils of rising stardom, and whatever can pass as romance in this sort of environment. While “Magic Mike” is being sold on the promise of beefcake exploitation, it’s a stripper movie with a brain of gold (and its heart is sometimes just as bronzed as the musclemen on display); it’s much more “Goodfellas” than it is “Showgirls,” as the film partly explores the glamour before revealing the underlying grit, and “Magic Mike” goes to some sleazy places.

However, they aren’t unnaturally sleazy; Soderbergh is so often in touch with the naturalness of his subjects, and there’s not an overwrought moment or sentiment to be found in “Magic Mike.” One scene plays out as a hurricane rages outside, but there’s an eerie calmness about it, almost as if it’s actually the calm before the storm of events that’s about to blow through these character’s lives. It’s one of those perfect moments that accentuates the microburst of a film Soderbergh has crafted here, as he peers into a three month window before again shutting it at the same place he opened it: with the tease of sex. By this point, though, audiences have come to realize that Soderbergh isn’t interested in money shots as much as he is cold gazes that have revealed this lifestyle to be an empty husk of crumpled up bills and dry-humping.

The intimacy of the film is wonderful, right down to the location--this isn’t big-time America; instead, it’s hole-in-the-wall Tampa, and the characters dream of hitting the big time in Miami. Soderbergh’s ragtag ensemble is full of distressed 99%ers who have felt the brunt of the economic downturn. That freefall dominated conversations in “The Girlfriend Experience,” but it’s given some cursory mentions here; “Magic Mike” isn’t an Occupy parable, but it’s definitely operating on the fringes enough to render a Fourth of July themed strip-show ironic.

Tatum’s Mike has shouldered the fallout as best he can--he’d rather be running his custom furniture business, and one gathers that stripping was supposed to be the hold-over that never loosened its hold. 2012 has been a good year for Tatum, and “Magic Mike” represents his best performance to date. His turn is superbly nuanced as he essentially peels away the Magic Mike persona, an act that almost has meta-fictional implications considering the film is partly based on his own experiences.

He starts the film as a collected bro whose interactions feel like a calculated act; he even manages to stage events to pick up chicks, and Tatum’s got a natural knack for this that makes Mike feel both charming and a little phony all at once. We even think we’re seeing the real Mike when he’s in dapper attire trying to secure a loan, but it’s an interaction that only reminds him that he can’t talk his way into and out of every situation. He’s a bull-shitter that’s basically a good person, and the film takes the admittedly clichéd route of finding the right girl to help him shatter the facade.

Horn is the girl, and she has a weird, flat vibe that still works. Throughout the film, she seems to range from sullen to grim-faced, like a buzz-kill that’s been deployed right in the middle of this boy’s party (the film is being marketed towards women, but “Magic Mike” is often an examination of masculine culture--it’s all sex, drugs, and rock & roll, only it’s dialed down to a natural volume). Olivia Munn is the other girl in Mike’s life, a hook-up that’s become an acquaintance; there are no real genuine moments between the two thanks to her distance, and Munn is unexpectedly effective in the role, which should come as no surprise given Soderbergh’s talents with non-traditional actors. A lot of films would present these two girls as strict binaries--Horn would be the hearty, girl-next door, while Munn would be a combination of sex buddy and dark woman, but “Magic Mike” simply presents them as people.

“Magic Mike” is full of just that: people that are realized with pitch-perfect performances. We watch Adam free-fall from wide-eyed innocence to a disheveled shell comprised of alcohol and vomit as he sidles up next to McConaughey’s Dallas like a drug-addled prostitute seeking approval from a john. At first glance, it seems like Soderbergh has given us the McConaughey we love: the charmer with a panty-dropping drawl whose repeated “alright, alright, alright” catchphrase recalls the infectious Wooderson persona from “Dazed and Confused.” However, whereas Linklater treated Wooderson with reverence despite his creepy tendency to hang around the high school scene long after he should have graduated from college, Soderbergh reveals Dallas to actually be at least a little creepy. Part holy roller reverend, part snake-oil salesman, all ringleader, Dallas is an indomitable figure that never gets aspersion fully cast upon him because Soderbergh isn’t really all that interested in making judgments.

Instead, what Soderbergh has provided here is a well-crafted glimpse; “Magic Mike” doesn’t make any grand statements even though it’s certainly not the film it’s being marketed as. It’d be easy to see Mike as a stand-in for Soderbergh’s own artistic frustrations---he’s long operated on the “one for me, one for the studio” model of filmmaking, but “Magic Mike” is a wonderful fusion of both. It’s like a more accessible A-Side to “The Girlfriend Experience” but it doesn’t sacrifice Soderbergh’s auteurist touch. He especially fills the film with visual contrasts, as the nighttime scenes are flush with vibrant color, sweltering sex, and steamy music, while the daylight is flatly realized with a urinary palette, uncomfortable silences, small chatter, and long takes.

I’m probably making “Magic Mike” sound like more of a downer than it actually is; make no mistake--it bustles with a mischievous sense of humor, and there’s no shortage of lively strip-shows with impressive choreography. It’s just obvious that Soderbergh is much more interested in the hangover than the binges the night before, and that makes “Magic Mike” as old fashioned and cool as the vintage Warner Brothers logo that opens its proceedings.

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originally posted: 06/29/12 19:10:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/25/13 Sully Boring boring boring No story no acting no good 1 stars
8/29/12 Delcia Pena The movie was fantastic. 3 stars
7/25/12 wickedwoman25 bad storyline, great bods! 4 stars
7/24/12 Mick Gillies Cosidering its storyline rather a well made and interesting movie 4 stars
7/04/12 Scott Where's the Magic? 1 stars
6/30/12 Nikki The guys were AMAZING especially magic mike wouldve been better if another girl was brooke 5 stars
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  29-Jun-2012 (R)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2012



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