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Awesome: 3.33%
Worth A Look86.67%
Just Average: 3.33%
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4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Magic Mike
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Girlfriend Experience"
4 stars

Over the last few weeks, I have happened to notice a surprising uptick in interest among female acquaintances over Steven Soderbergh's latest film, "Magic Mike." As a longtime fan of Soderbergh's work, it is heartening to discover that Soderbergh apparently has such a rabid and dedicated fan base that is seemingly counting down the minutes to the release of his latest work with the kind of excitement usually reserved for fanboy anticipation for a new Batman movie. That said, it is a bit strange to see such intense interest in the film--after all, I don't recall women clamoring for the release of such recent Soderbergh joints as "The Informant," "Contagion" or "Haywire." Besides, seeing as how the female audience is not always interested in straight-up fantasy films, why would they want to see a movie that, based on the title alone, sounds like an exceptionally shameless knockoff of the Harry Potter franchise. Well, as it turns out, while it is indeed a Soderbergh film--his third to be released in less than nine months--I seem to have been wildly in error as to what kind of movie it actually was. Put it this way--those weren't magic wands that those guys were holding, though many of the women at the screening I attended seemed inclined to disagree.

I kid, I kid. "Magic Mike" is, as you most likely know, is the eagerly anticipated (in some quarters) look at the world of male stripping that is loosely inspired by the real-life exploits of hunk-du-jour Channing Tatum, who indeed made a living for a brief period of time in the flesh trade before moving on to Hollywood stardom. On the surface, it sounds like nothing so much as a remake of the immortal screen classic "Coyote Ugly" with a gender flip and the R rating that it should have had the first time around. Indeed, it is a heedless hoot for a while but whenever the film threatens to turn into a contemporary version of "A Night in Heaven" (in which hunky young stripper Christopher Atkins. . .you known, you can look up the details of this one on your own), Soderbergh steers it away to something a little more thoughtful and intelligent than the camp-heavy ads might otherwise indicate and the result is, startlingly enough, a film that female and male audiences alike can derive enjoyment from, though the more sensitive and insecure members of the latter group may find themselves averting their eyes at certain points while questioning their purchase of the concession stand hot dog for more than the usual reasons.

Tatum stars as Mike, an enterprising young man juggling a number of jobs covering practically the entire employment spectrum--by day, he works construction and runs his own auto detailing business and by not, he is the lead performer at Xquisite, the hottest male strip club in the Tampa area (though one look at the place inspires cringeworthy thoughts as to what the runner-up must be like). It is all fun and games on the surface--the money is pretty good and the fringe benefits, such as the attentions of a horny sociologist-in-training (Olivia Munn), are even prettier--but Mike is now pushing 30 and wants to finally launch his long-cherished dream of starting his own business building custom-made furniture. Sadly, the current economic situation doesn't favor people who receive a sizable chunk of their income in one-dollar bills and even though he shows up for a meet with a loan officer with nearly $14,000 in cash, he is still turned down for a small business loan for being a bad credit risk.

One day while wearing his construction worker hat, he mets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old college dropout with hunky good looks and no discernible job skills to speak of. The two bond and Mike invites him to come along to Xquisite that night with the lure of a few quick bucks and the company of a couple of comely co-eds. Through Alex's eyes, we get a quick tour of the establishment and meet the supremely suave and self-confident owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) and the other dancers involved with the show (played by Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello) and when one of them is unable to go on, Adam is quickly shoved onstage as a substitute in true "42nd Street"-fashion. Though his dance moves are practically non-existent, he has that certain something and the women in the audience practically eat him up. Not surprisingly, Adam joins the troupe and he and Mike become best pals as the veteran dancer helps to show the new kid all the giddy pleasures that can be derived from bumping and grinding to "It's Raining Men."

Of course, a story like this always needs a bit of a pill as well and the one here comes in the form of Brooke (Cody Horn), Alex's older sister and a self-serious type (we can tell because she is dating a financial type who frankly doesn't care about the chaos that he and others have rained down upon the economy) who is upset about the idea of her brother being a stripper and the way that Mike lured him into the gig in the first place. Mike vows to her that he will make sure that nothing bad happens to Adam--partly out of his own sense of guilt over his role in the recruitment of The Kid (as Adam in known onstage), partly out of a genuine wish to make sure that Adam doesn't make the mistakes that he has presumably seen other make over the years and partly because Brooke looks really good in a bikini when she finally begins to loosen up. For a while, everything seems to be going swell for Mike--the party never seems to end for him and Adam, Dallas is planning a long-awaited move to a new establishment in Miami to which he has promised Mike an equity stake and he even begins to make some headway with Brooke. Sadly, the party has to end sometime and it does as Adam's ego starts to spiral out of control and he gets involved in a drug-dealing scheme that instantly goes badly. As for Mike, he is suddenly forced to come to terms with the fact that the shelf life of his current existence is about to expire and that there is no such thing as Old Timers Night in the male stripping industry and you probably don't want to see what it looks like if there is.

The ads for "Magic Mike," perhaps unsurprisingly, place their emphasis almost exclusively on the beefcake angle to the point where most audiences may assume that it is meant to be a campfest along the lines of "Burlesque." It certainly doesn't seem to be aimed at those who might be interested in seeing the latest work from one of America's most fascinating and eclectic filmmakers--the ads an trailers that I have seen so far do not mention him at all. Granted, this may not be one of Soderbergh's more ambitious ventures of late--it lacks the epic sweep of "Che," the formal invention of "The Informant" or the kind of experiments with familiar genre tropes that he conducted recently in "Contagion" and "Haywire"--and it is arguably the most conventionally constructed work that he has done, both in dramatic and cinematic terms, since "Erin Brockovich." And yet, "Magic Mike" quickly reveals itself to be a more intriguing work than the anonymous raunch-o-rama suggested by the ads.

The early scenes, in which Soderbergh introduces the details of the milieu that he is exploring, are the best as he (once again handling the cinematography himself under his "Peter Andrews" alias) are alternately hilarious (including one bit of hysterically funny nudity that is likely to be the film's most talked-about moment) and absorbing in the way that he captures the most minute nuances of the club, its employees and its clientele--the end result is half sociological observation, half unabashed exploitation and all entertaining. And as he did in "The Girlfriend Experience," his previous film dealing with players in the sex industry, he does a subtle but effective job of depicting the current economic climate and how it is affecting his characters. In most films made today, characters live in a happy world where large apartments are easily affordable, bills seemingly pay themselves and people can just fly anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat. In the world of "Magic Mike," however, bills are always looming, the hardest workers are still unable to catch a break from a banking industry that seems to be designed to punish the hardest workers while rewarding those who are most cavalier with other people's money.

This is fascinating stuff for a while but just as the story begin to take a darker turn that is not suggested at all in the party-hearty ads, the film as a whole begins to take a bit of a downward turn as it becomes increasingly predictable from a dramatic standpoint. After having our eyes opened with the fresh stuff involving Mike, the club and the other dancers, we are then asked to develop some kind of interest in such familiar matters as Adam letting his fame go to his head, Mike having a crisis of the soul as his fantasy world begins to crumble around him and the on/off relationship between Mike and Brooke. This is stuff that we have seen before and while a more experimental Soderbergh might have found a way of dealing with them by either subverting or dissecting them at length, the more conventional-minded Soderbergh is content here to just let them play out in the least surprising manner possible. There is nothing particularly awful with this stuff--other than the fact that Cody Horn, as attractive as she may be--is a fairly terrible actress who cannot bring even the fairly unchallenging material that she is working with to life in any convincing way--but after the lively and fascinating early passages, the late inning turn to the familiar is a bit of a bummer.

Although some audiences may find themselves put off by the darker twists and turns that they may not be anticipating, "Magic Mike" is, for the most part, one of this summer's more entertaining screen offerings to date. That said, neither Soderbergh nor any of the supporting actors--with the exception of McConaughey, who pretty much steals every single scene that he is in with his swaggering turn as Dallas--are really the focus here and few if any viewers or commentators are likely to be paying much attention to their contributions. No, if this film is anything, it is a final referendum on the topic of whether Channing Tatum is indeed a movie star or not. Personally, I have found myself liking him--though not necessarily his movies--through his emergence over the last few years. Unlike a lot of the hunky lunks that have come around of late, Tatum has demonstrated some dramatic chops, a surprising flair for comedy, hot dance moves a-plenty and the kind of commanding on-screen presence that cannot be denied. All of those qualities are given quite the showcase here and he proves once and for all that he is the real deal indeed. More importantly, he also gets a chance to suggest that there is more to him than his slightly above-average looks and that he could make the transformation from screen idol to real actor.

Before I go, I would like to clear up a couple of ancillary questions regarding "Magic Mike." The first revolves around the question of nudity and what is and isn't shown throughout. Ordinarily, I would be loathe to bring up something like that because it seems a tad gauche to discuss such a topic openly. Nevertheless, there is a curiosity regarding the subject in the context of this film that is understandable and I will therefore just come right out and say it--yes, Olivia Munn is topless and as these things go, it is a reasonably considerable sight to behold. (If there was any other significant displays of skin, they seem to have slipped my mind.)

The other question revolves around the somewhat tricky topic of what to do if you have a child who is old enough to have a keen interest in seeing "Magic Mike" but not quite old enough to get around the "R" rating. Yes, you could take your child yourself but I can all but guarantee that it will lead to an incredibly uncomfortable trip home from the theater that simply isn't worth it. Tho this end, I would simply advise that you sit down with your kids and tell them frankly that it is incredibly easy to go to the multiplex, buy a ticket for one movie that has a more lenient rating and then sneak into another with a more restrictive designation and if they go during a slower moviegoing period, like during a weekday matinee, it is highly unlikely that anyone would get caught performing this minor malfeasance. Glad to help.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23720&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/28/12 22:37:28
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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
7/24/12 wickedwoman25 bad storyline, great bods! 4 stars
7/24/12 Mick Gillies Cosidering its storyline rather a well made and interesting movie 4 stars
7/03/12 Scott Where's the Magic? 1 stars
6/29/12 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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