Friday, June 29, 2012
Review of MAGIC MIKE (2012)
- Rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity (which is actually silhouetted), language, and some drug use.
- Starring Channing Tatum, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello
- Written Reid Carolin
- Directed by Steven Soderbergh
- Running time: 1hr 50min.
Director Steven Soderbergh is by far the most ambitious working filmmaker today. It seems like he's willing to try just about any type of film. Starting off as an Indie darling (SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE, KAFKA), he moved on to make daring studio films like OUT OF SIGHT. He's made thrillers (THE LIMEY), remakes (OCEAN'S ELEVEN and SOLARIS), experimental films on shoestring budgets (THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, BUBBLE), a four hour epic biopic (CHE), a throwback to cinema of the 40's (THE GOOD GERMAN), and has taken typical Hollywood fare, fusing it with an independent sensibility (ERIN BROCKOVICH). After the epidemic drama CONTAGION and martial arts flick HAYWIRE, MAGIC MIKE make this his third film in under a year. Not all of his films are successful, but I sure love to watch him try. Always making interesting movies, I was curious to see how he would tackle a film about male stripping.
The thin plot is about as simple as it comes. Channing Tatum plays Magic Mike, a 30-year old male stripper who works for a burnt out beach bum (McConaughey) in Tampa. He does have a dream, though. To start a custom furniture business. While working at his construction day job, Mike meets Adam (Pettyfer), a 19 year old slacker who, almost by accident, gets drawn into the world of stripping with Mike. Adam also has an older sister named Brooke (Horn), who is disapproving of his lifestyle, but is strangely drawn to Mike, who is also taken by surprise by how much he likes her. And... that's about it.
You have your standard veteran-showing-the-rookie-the-ropes plot, which involves lots of sex and drugs of course, but this film is very much above it's simplistic story. You see, it really cares about it's characters. The plot is just there. There's no big twists. No big third act reveal. This is just about how real characters deal with real situations. And that's what took me by surprise. MAGIC MIKE is nothing like the goofy, campy trailers at all. It's a very serious movie about a seedy career.
In anyone else's hands this could have been bland, or worse than that, a broad comedy. But Soderbergh wisely directs the film in the same vein as some of the great dark dramas from the 70's, like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and (especially) THE GAMBLER. He also won me over by using the 1970's Warner Brothers logo to open the film, which really set the proper tone for me. Shooting in orange hues, the movie has a very gritty look which added to the film's darker elements. Now, this doesn't get as dark as BOOGIE NIGHTS, but it's not a super happy movie either. The cinematography is quite good, but Soderbergh doesn't overdo it. The shots are unique, but they don't draw attention to themselves. It's like he made an effort not to be stylish, which in turn, made it stylish. If that makes sense. Whatever it is, it's a really neat looking film.
With a film this bare on plot, you better have interesting characters. And that's where this film succeeds. Channing Tatum's Magic Mike is very compelling and it's 100% due to the incredibly engaging performance he gives. Apparently, this film was based on some of his experiences as a male stripper before his acting career took off, which seems to add to making his character authentic. Just as good is Cody Horn as Brooke. She doesn't have normal leading lady looks (thank Christ), and she's all the more attractive for it. She almost looks like Hilary Swank, but the difference being that Cody is actually hot. She has an untrained aura about her, making the performance all the more raw and honest. Horn and Tatum are terrific as they flirt together. They're dialogue seems very improvised, giving their scenes undeniable realism. The rest of the cast is fine too. McConaughey is appropriately sleazy as the host of the strip show, but he at least seems like he's trying this time. Alex Pettyfer is also decent as Adam. There aren't any big "acting" moments in the movie, therefore giving it a natural flavor.
The film has a very slow and leisurely pace as the characters just hang out, getting to know each other. I loved this approach. The heart of the story is the budding relationship developing between Mike and Cody. I love how unconventional in which way everything plays out. And the ending couldn't me more perfect. But how is the stripping? Very good actually. To be honest, I feel very uncomfortable in a female strip club, but think male strippers are hilarious. The acts and dance numbers are pretty laughable here, but no more so than in real life. Even the ladies at the club in the movie are laughing, which is how it would be I imagine. Tatum is a great dancer and gets to showcase his moves here. Even McConaughey gets to show off a bit. There is nudity here, but (with the exception of one jarring moment involving a penis pump) it's all bare asses. There's arguably more female nudity here.
I'm wondering how audiences are going to take this movie. Are people who thought this was going to be a cheesy guilty pleasure ready for a harsh slap of reality? Will they be ready for a heartfelt, and honest character drama? I'm not so sure. The people who will most likely enjoy the film will probably be turned off by Channing Tatum and the misleading trailers. This is an art house film for sure. It's a surprisingly involving, well acted, carefully crafted slice of life. If you would have told me that a movie about male stripping starring the guy from STEP UP would be Soderbergh's best film in 10 years, I would've laughed in your face. But guess what? It really is his best film in 10 years, and so far one of the highlights of the summer movie season.
***1/2 (out of ****)