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Magic Mike Review: Demolition Woman, Can I Be Your Man?

By Daniel Carlson | Film Reviews | June 29, 2012 | Comments ()


magic-mike-review.jpg

A Steven Soderbergh movie usually means a certain level of affectation: the use of comics as straight men in The Informant!, the meta-genre experiment of The Good German, the ironic detachment heaped upon ironic detachment of Ocean's Twelve. The way he made the apocalypse forgettable. Even Haywire was more about the idea of an action movie than an actual action movie. Soderbergh can tend to feel a little too stuck in his own head, trapped between warring desires to tell a story and comment on his process at the same time. And while there are a few instances of that in Magic Mike -- the film opens with a version of the Warner Bros. logo not seen since the 1970s, just for the hell of it -- what makes the film so strong is that Soderbergh seems to have rekindled his love of telling intimately observed stories that place as much emphasis on emotional continuity as it does on lighting schemes. This isn't cinema from a cool observer; this is a film with punch and nuance, and one that isn't afraid to connect to its characters or audience. You can feel how much Soderbergh actually cares about his hero here, which means he's also willing to let him fail. This is the most emotionally true film that Soderbergh's made in years, and it's nice to finally have the heart reconnected to the brain. In a pleasing contradiction, Soderbergh has found a way to take a step forward by getting back to basics.

Many of Soderbergh's films are about men and women whose biggest enemy is their own reputation and the fear that they're being perceived in ways they don't want and can't control. His best movies are about thieves and scoundrels who become unhappy victims of systems to which they initially submit their lives without much thought, so it makes sense that he'd be able to find the emotional root in a story about a twentysomething bro who lucks into being a stripper and can't seem to extract himself from that world. Magic Mike is set in the cheesy, uncomfortable, mostly depressing world of male strip clubs, and though it has moments of real sexiness, don't be misled by the ads: this is a sex comedy the way Boogie Nights is a rom-com. Soderbergh focuses on the sad, weird hilarity of the industry and its inhabitants, keeping a tight balance between drama and comedy. The film's biggest strength, though, is Channing Tatum.

As Mike, Tatum brings to bear the charm he let loose in 21 Jump Street and couples it with a believable frustration at his inability to forge a better life for himself. Mike works at an all-male dance revue in Tampa with a handful of other guys, all under the control of a manager named Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). The inherent cheesiness of the show has allowed Mike to soldier through it for more years than he's realized, though he's trying to break out with a number of side businesses, most notably a custom furniture shop. He's running in place, though, inured to the effects of his night job by the money, local celebrity, and apparently unending supply of women. Tatum is perfectly suited to the role, strutting around with such ease that not even he's aware of how unhappy he is.

Soderbergh captures all the tacky glory of the stage show, too. It's not that he's averse to the sexuality of the performers -- Mike and the rest of the club's crew always look great up in lights, writhing like happy devils -- it's that he knows how to take just one half-step back and let them live in the glitzy arena between sex gods and jesters. The club looks run-down even with the lights off, and the costumes and music are unabashedly low-rent. Soderbergh also doubles as cinematographer, as usual, under the pseudonym Peter Andrews, and he makes wonderful use of light and color to separate the club, where Mike comes alive, with the rest of the world, where Mike's just another guy splitting time between construction work and a struggling side business. The Tampa we see is burnished amber inside and out, but the club is a blast of blues and reds, offset by gleaming sweat. It's like a casino, with a visual pop that contributes to the allure and makes you forget time and reason.

Mike's world isn't made to last, though, and he starts to see the cracks when he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) while working construction and recruits the younger man into the club's ranks. Mike christens him The Kid and shoves him on stage one night, and soon enough, Adam is doing his best to emulate the lifestyle he sees so gaudily displayed by Mike and the other men. The film is based in part on Tatum's life: he spent about six months working as a stripper when he was 19, dropping out of college in the process, and it's this sense of listless hedonism that informs Adam and his decisions. The screenplay from Reid Carolin does a nice job of setting up the duality of Mike and Adam, as well as the cyclical nature of the club, without hitting any one beat too hard. Rather, Soderbergh lets us spend time with Mike and watch him grow from frustrated hustler to a man who knows his life has to change, if only he could figure out how to do it.

Tatum sells these moments perfectly, too. He's got ridiculous chemistry with everyone on screen, even with a wan love interest in Adam's sister, played by Cody Horn in a nicely understated way. He clicks even better with his fellow strippers: Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello). Pettyfer also does well with what's ultimately a thankless role: he's the one who has to become such a self-destructive catalyst for change that he spurs Mike to realize just how dead-end his own life has become. They work well as a pair, but really, this is Tatum's show, and he owns every minute. In one of the film's many compelling moments, Mike and Adam are talking about the future, with Adam shooting his mouth off about the big life while unconsciously belittling Mike's desire to make something of himself. At one point he mentions "that furniture crap" that Mike is pushing, and he doesn't fathom how much this toss-off has wounded Mike. But we do. Soderbergh's spent the movie building to grandly small moments like this one, and in that instant, our heart breaks a little for a rapidly aging exotic dancer who's forced to reconcile who he is with the man he wishes he could be. Tatum flickers just a little, just enough. It's wrenching.

Soderbergh hits just the right mix of light and dark here, letting the club scene inhabitants glam it up while also showing just how empty or horrible some of them turn out to be. The setting helps him get away with it. Women tend to visit strip clubs or revues like these as larks, looking for sexual entertainment with high levels of performance and a sense of self-awareness of what they're doing. Men, on the other hand, tend to patronize strip clubs for slightly darker sexual reasons, looking to inhabit a fantasy instead of experiencing it. (There's a reason that Chippendale's is a punch line while strip clubs for men are regularly busted for prostitution.) Yet in focusing on the goofiness of the male-revue world, Soderbergh finds its inherent, beautiful tragedy: Mike is a pitiable man, but no one thinks to pity him. He's a smart man, but no one wants to listen. He's a small timer who thinks he's got it made, and there's a fantastic journey to be had in watching him learn the truth and decide what to do with it.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • drdysentery

    I feel like this is review for what a good version of this film should have been. I couldn't have been more disengaged from this movie and found it's ambling dialogue about half as boring as the male striptease, which seemed more like a reprisal of channing tatum's dance moves from Step Up than anything resembling exotic dance.

  • Chriso

    I'm sorry, what movie did you see? This was the most boring, empty film I've seen in years. If it wasn't for the occasional male nudity I wouldn't have been able to handle it at all. If I were a heterosexual man I'd be protesting this film for making my people seem like the dullest creatures on the face of the earth.

  • Lexie

    We saw it last night, and I have to say I was expecting a lot more sexy and a lot less dead air. The cinematography was indeed quite intimate, but left me squirming in those quiet moments. Hated the love interest - I'd have preferred CT try to get close to a 2x4. And some sequences literally left me motion-sick. I (and all the other women in the audience, who cheered in the first five minutes like it was a live show and then began filing out to get refunds, no joke) would have preferred a trailer that was true to the tone of the actual film. As it is, it's the biggest bait n' switch I've seen in recent memory.

  • I've yet to see this movie but I absolutely cannot wait. Not only does it look sexy it looks hilarious!

  • Did you read the review?

  • Jezzer

    I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that this just might be a spammer. :P

  • Aruna

    I'm still not completely sure this review isn't a hoax and won't at some point be replaced with the real one, which will boil down to "yeah, guys get naked".

    That is to say: This review is totally not what I expected it to be. I guess I'll have to see for myself, if this is indeed more than "the Channing Tatum stripper movie".

  • Slash

    I don't mind a stripper movie with a decent story. I figured if anybody could do that, it'd be Soderbergh.

  • ERM

    It seems like a woman would be best suited to review this movie for which the main draw is mostly naked men. Are there women movie reviewers on this site anymore? Or are they just the gossip columnists?

  • tamatha_uhmelmahaye

    ERM - I'm guessing that you hadn't seen the film when you posted this comment, because if you had, you would realize that Daniel's review is excellent. I'm a woman and I saw the movie yesterday, and I couldn't have described it any better than Daniel did. Even if the trailers of this movie are directed to draw in women and gay men for a cheesy beefcake-fest, the movie is so much more than those trailers would lead you to believe--as Daniel explained, the trailers are misleading.

    His review is right on the money, regardless of his gender.

  • special snowflake

    Joanna Robinson is but one of the extremely talented and readable female film reviewers this site has blessed us with; when Ranylt was doing regular reviews here it was about as close to Pajiba Heaven as could be imagined.

  • Jezzer

    Wow, somebody took a wrong turn on their way back from Free Republic.

  • layla

    Damn it! How can one potato be so g*d damn charming? It's like he's a magical potato.

  • tamatha_uhmelmahaye

    I am seeing this tomorrow with Internet Magpie! I don't want to know if it's any good (good good or bad good or cheesy good or whatever good) or not ahead of time. But I am looking forward to reading your review *after* that.

  • tamatha_uhmelmahaye

    Having seen the film, I kind of wish I *had* read this review ahead of time, because, Daniel, you were totally right--the trailers were pretty damn misleading. The film, however, was really good and I'm glad I got to see it, even if it wasn't simply a cheesy, beefcake, good time.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    See...I can't help but wonder, are there any actual strip clubs in Tampa that are capable of putting together male strip routines as GOOD as what's being advertised? I had thought this was set in Vegas, where it would make a little more sense.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I don't see it happening, but Mr. Potato apparently worked here at some point.

  • Drake

    Weird. Our local newspaper critic also gave this his top rating. And also mentioned CT as the films asset. I might have to get by my embarrassment of going to see this single.

  • JenVegas

    The critic on the morning news show I watch sort of panned it. Which, you know, I take with a grain of salt but in the panning of it he made it sound more in the vein of Showgirls than this review does. Sooo while I certainly have more respect for Daniel's review than the local doofus' I gotta know, before I spend energy figuring out child-care coverage, IS it fun to watch but cheesy in the dialogue department like Showgirls? Cause if it is I'm totally saving it for a rental.

  • I was already planning to see this tonight. I just didn't expect it to be very good. Thanks for giving me hope, Daniel!

  • Captain_Tuttle

    As a Tampa Bay area resident, I can assure you that all of our strip clubs are seedy. Not that I've been in any of them (seriously - it's just not my jam). In fact, Tampa is considered the smut capital of Florida, given the sheer number of nasty strip clubs we have here.

    I was dragged to a Chippendale-esque show once in college as a sorority thing. I spent the whole show being terribly embarrassed for the poor men on stage, and even more embarrassed for the shrieking banshees in the audience. And yet, I'm fully planning on seeing this movie. I may have even talked my husband into seeing it with me. Do you think he might be expecting that he could benefit from my reaction to the sweaty men? Hmmm.

  • KatSings

    Two of my dearest friends, my mom and I are all going to see this next weekend on our vacation getaway. We're going for the camp and hotness of the club's revue scenes (reliving my bachelorette party from several months ago, except this time there won't be hot men on me, and HBO filming - yes that was my life). It's nice to see there's some quality story and acting surrounding the fun and camp. Great review.

  • Melissa

    ...Wait, what? I could have sworn this movie was going to be terrible, but it's not?

    Damn you economy and lack of giving me the monies I need to see the movies I want!

  • colpetty

    Well color me wtf, C-Tates can and does act eh. Oh and thanks a bunch Daniel for that positive review, now I have to feign like I am obviously trying to muster up enthusiasm, so that the wife doesn't win that bet and dammit Carlson, my acting chops are far less Hanksian than I would prefer.

    To those interested, Mrs Colpetty wagered that not only would it be a good movie but that I would want to watch this movie more than she does. Smart woman she is.

  • GoodBon

    Damn fine review. I may actually watch this movie now, which is a far cry from where I stood on the issue before I started reading. Cheers.

  • Randomlurker

    Yeah, but how is the dancing? I'm a dance-porn whore and to be honest, I am really only seeing this for two reasons - 1. Alcide, and 2. Charming Potato dancing. I was dragged to a Chippendale's show once and was horrifically disappointed that the "dancing" could only be called "undulating." I'm impressed with your thoughtful review and I'm glad to know that I'll be getting more than just jiggle, but I do want to see *some* jiggle.

  • Just saw it today. You won't be disappointed, Charming Potato gets more than one dance to show off his moves.

  • Jezzer

    "The film’s biggest strength, though, is Channing Tatum."

    Well now, there's a sentence I never expected to see, unless it was damning something with faint praise.

    "...don’t be misled by the ads: this is a sex comedy the way Boogie Nights is a rom-com."

    That might explain why the trailer is so off-putting. The trailer is structured like a comedy trailer, but there are no jokes or funny moments.

  • Jezzer

    You're a credit to your kidfucking religion

  • AngelenoEwok

    You're a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.

  • Ash

    great review. can't wait to see this (and now, not just for Big Dick Richie!)

  • llp

    You know, this sounds like an excellent movie. Soderbergh can make such great films, and I am ready to be pleasantly surprised one Potato.

    Also, Matt Bomer looks like Prince Charming. Rawr.

  • So what you're saying is that Charming Potato actually has what it takes to be a big time movie star? How about that.
    I have to ask - at any point does his character do the "mashed potato"?

  • Fredo

    I'm here for the C-Tates jokes, girl.

  • Noo

    I've been ridiculously excited for this movie, just because of how infectious channing has been about it. I know he's not the greatest of actors, but being directed by Soderbergh had me thinking this could be a good movie. I can't believe how positive your review was there Dustin and while I leave for the US on Monday, I think I might have to take the time to see the film while I am stateside.

  • Irina

    I'd love to hear Dustin's opinion on this movie; however, this review was written by Daniel.

  • Az

    Look, I'm just there for the beefcake, mmmkay?

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Women. So predictable.

  • blacksred

    Same here! I have no desire for a "story"!

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