‘Magic Mike’ Review
My grandmother had something she loved to say. “What's good for the goose is good for the gander.” (Yes, my grandmother was a talking Grant Wood painting.) We live in an age where titillating sexploitation films with half-naked women are dropped into theaters every few weeks so maybe once in a while it should be the menfolk who get naked?
But a funny thing happened on the way to the strip club. 'Magic Mike' - which one could be forgiven for dismissing as a beefcake 'Showgirls' based solely on the ads - is the latest from American cinema's most skilled mercenary, Steven Soderbergh. Oh, it's got abs in your face and then some, but it's also a smart look at blue collar struggles in one of America's less-glamorous outposts.
'Magic Mike' might be an exploitation picture, sure, but in the way 'Two-Lane Blacktop' delights car enthusiasts or 'Fat City' is for boxing fans. You can take the 70s-bred auteur out of the art house, but you can't fully take the art house of the 70s-bred auteur.
Channing Tatum's Mike is a the best male stripper in Tampa, Florida, but like Travolta's Tony Manero, he has bigger dreams. He has an eye for custom designed furniture (why not?) and between dry-humping women at bachelorette parties and the occasional roofing gig, he's collecting dough to open his own business.
At the roofing gig he meets Adam, a directionless 19-year-old kid living on his sister's couch. At a chance evening encounter Mike sizes him up and soon takes him under his wing as “The Kid” at the all-male strip revue. (I'll leave it to audiences to forever argue what degree of homoeroticism exists in Mike's shine to Adam.)
Adam's entry to the world of stripping is like a tamer version of Henry Hill's discovery of the mob in 'GoodFellas' (there's nothing illegal going on, at least not at first) or Dirk Diggler's acceptance into “the family” in 'Boogie Nights' (there's sex, but nothing that much crazier, really, than what's going on at the University of Tampa.) Still, it's a big rush for Adam – he's got new friends, women are all over him, plus he's learning some new dance moves. The fellow strippers are all welcoming and the club's leader, Matthew McConaughey, seems at first like a sleaze, but is actually just a strong, supportive businessman.
Yeah, the marketing may make 'Magic Mike' seem like girls' night out at the multiplex, but this movie is more male wish fulfillment than anything else. The Tampa crew are living a dream, and if it means they have to shave their legs and spend a lot on tacky underwear, hell, the rewards are worth it.
The life, however, takes its toll – and Mike has to decide how much longer he can sustain his teenage fantasy. He's quick to fall for Adam's sister (a "go to dinner" girl) and promises her he'll take care of Adam. Adam, however, is just a puppy, and suddenly has access to all the sex he wants, plus drugs, thus setting the stage for the predictable missteps of youth.
One of the many things about 'Magic Mike' is how all of the characters feel compelled to look out for one another. They know they aren't living a normal life. (“She's not like us,” Tatum tells Olivia Munn's character when she assumes Adam's sister is up for a threeway.) But no one in 'Magic Mike' is a bad person, other than the business douche dating Adam's sister who would be considered an upstanding citizen by regular folk.
As in Soderbergh's 'The Girlfriend Experience' much of the surface-level conversation is about money. (Think about it – it's something we all talk about constantly.) While the loud music and fancy lights of the strip club have the veneer of glamor, no one is exactly rolling in dough. The young studs make more from gyrating in a g-string than from hanging tiles, but a night of hard work will net them something like $230. Details like this abound, reminding us that this movie is not set in New York or LA but, you know, the real America.
Steven Soderbergh has made his name by not being tied to any specific genre. Despite this, his movies have a very distinctive look and feel. (A trained eye can spot his work in an instant.) The aesthetic he's been perfecting in recent work like 'Haywire' and 'Contagion' are represented again here, though smoothed out a little for the dance montages. Like with the naturalistic fighting in 'Haywire,' Soderbergh seems to be digging the opportunity to let scenes that are purely cinematic wash over you. As such, there are a lot of half-naked dancing dudes in this film.
Despite a handful of truly gripping scenes, 'Magic Mike' fits snugly in the “gem” category of good films. It doesn't try to change the world and stays emotionally reserved most of the time. The ending maybe gets away a bit, but this is, let's face it, made for a mainstream audience, and those types of emotional payoffs are guaranteed in the social contract. Hats and trousers off to Channing Tatum, put to great use here, and doing things with his pelvis that may be illegal in some states.
'Magic Mike' hits theaters on June 29th
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.