Leave it to a guy like Steven Soderbergh to make a film about male-stripping starring heartthrob Channing Tatum and ladies man Matthew McConaughey. Only a director as talented as Soderbergh could make a film as wild as this work on so many levels. Magic Mike isn’t just an excuse to show the females more Tatum and McConaughey skin. It’s actually an excuse to tell a fascinating story about a character with conflicting career paths. One that leads him down the path of money and women and one that leads him down the path of self-fulfillment and a relationship that is more than just sex and a good time. Magic Mike is exciting and daring filmmaking that will surprise you with its layers and never disappoint you with its characters.
Mike (Channing Tatum) is a successful male stripper and an entrepreneur with a hand in an expansive list of businesses. He runs a little construction crew to make extra cash during the day and he electrifies a crowd of mostly females at night as a very talented stripper. His true passion is building one-of-kind pieces of furniture, but that business is a tricky one to get into, especially in this economy.
Mike seems to have his whole life in order, with a brand new vehicle, a decent-sized apartment and tons of ladies and cash. There’s something about him that doesn’t feel whole, which is expressed basically whenever he isn’t stripping. Mike wants a better life, but he’s trapped in the nightlife of partying and having a good time, even if it only lasts for a couple of hours.
Things change when Mike runs into Adam (or his stripping name of The Kid) (Alex Pettyfer). Adam is a nineteen year old kid with very little to his name. He takes a liking to Mike and eventually gets introduced to the world of male-stripping. Adam’s adolescent mindset steers him in the direction of simple things like wanting all of the women, money and drugs. He’s not too worried about where he’s going to end up the morning, but that’s okay for Adam because he knows that Mike always has his back.
Their relationship takes a few twists and turns, with Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) getting thrown into the mix, plus flamboyant characters like Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash).
Magic Mike takes all of these characters and narrows in on what makes them human. Director Steven Soderbergh presents each person as a flawed and sort of settled individual that’s looking for the next best thing. Soderbergh presents the extremes of each character, from The Kid’s innocent transformation into a larger-than-life dickhead, to Mike’s slow realization of what it really means to do what makes you happy.
There’s an artificial shell that initially surrounds Magic Mike as you’re given a special look beyond the curtain. Dallas appears to be the coolest cat in town when you’re first drawn in during one of his iconic speeches, but the more time you spend with him the sooner you realize that he’s just as cold and money hungry as everyone else in the world.
Soderbergh digs deeper into the film and washes away all of the body oil and erotic outfits, allowing you as a viewer to fully understand the nature of the job and severity of its impact on trying to have a normal life. Mike is clearly an unhappy camper and The Kid is obviously not to be trusted and yet when the lights go down and the bright neon lights fill the room you’ll feel that positive energy in the air as the good times roll.
He achieves this shift in tone by layering each character with an ample amount of detail.
Channing Tatum has been on a roll as of late, starring earlier this year in the hilarious 21 Jump Street and the equally bad-ass Haywire. His performance in Magic Mike is a tad more authentic, with it partially being based on true-life events from his past. He makes you connect with Mike almost instantly, because of his likability and his easy going comfort in just about any situation. Girls won’t find it hard to like Mike when his shirt comes off, but guys might be surprised with Tatum’s ability to turn dramatic on a dime. Mike isn’t an idiot; he’s actually a very bright individual, with a goal-oriented life that is moments away from taking off. Tatum brings humor, passion and openness to the character.
I’ve yet to like Alex Pettyfer in a film, yet I really liked his character in Magic Mike. Not as a person, but as a fully-developed being. Adam grows on you during the opening of the film, because he represents us as an audience. He’s thrown into the world of male-stripping without so much as a warning and slowly he warms up to the idea of making money by prancing around a stage half naked all night. It’s an awkward transition, but it leads to a lot of wild nights and even more wild people.
Then something happens. Adam gets caught up in the dangerous lifestyle and his true self is exposed. Pettyfer handles this exposition like a pro. Adam makes some airhead mistakes, but Pettyfer helps remind you that he’s just a kid and kids will do some dumb shit for a buck or two. Magic Mike is easily Pettyfer’s best effort yet, with lots of immature mistakes only helping the character become fully-functional.
Matthew McConaughey‘s role isn’t as big as the trailers might lead you to believe, but it’s probably the best of the entire film. He completely steals the show in terms of on-screen presence. His energy goes unmatched and you can tell he’s having the time of his life.
I’ve gone into a lot more detail than I thought and I must not leave out what keeps the film from being one of Soderbergh’s best. The relationship between Channing Tatum and Cody Horn is sort of teased during the first act and suddenly followed up during the second and third act. It’s the most engaging thing about the film and yet it sits on the back-burner for a little too long. When Soderbergh does change the focus the film gets instantly more interesting.
The film left me wanting to see more interaction between the two, especially during the first few scenes, yet somehow Soderbergh makes up for the absence of this relationship by providing us with an ending that sort of makes it all work.
Aside from the shuffling relationships Magic Mike is an energetic and amusing film. Steven Soderbergh‘s camera work is creative and revealing, Tatum’s performance is honest and fitting and McConaughey never stops convincing you that he should get a damn Oscar for his role.
Soderbergh keeps the story constant and flowing and almost always experimental in one way or another. Things never fit the mold exactly, with lots of sudden directional shifts. It’s just further proof of Soderbergh’s dominance as one of the most gifted filmmakers since Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. I don’t know how Soderbergh manages to switch genres so drastically and so quickly, without ever losing that personal feel that he brings to each and every film he’s ever done.
Magic Mike is not just about male-stripping or showing as much male skin as possible to widen its female audience. It’s a movie about a lonely, yet determined person who discovers life and what it feels like to be in a relationship that lasts longer than a lap dance. Director Steven Soderbergh never half-asses a single second of the film, providing you with tons of well-choreographed dance numbers that share equal screen time with the film’s dramatic story.
Please don’t write this one off without seeing it, because if you do then you’ll have missed one of the year’s most surprising films yet.
Magic Mike – 9/10