Special Review by Male Stripper Correspondent Scott "Sparkles" Pagliaroni
A story set during summer, in a sun-soaked locale, about people showing skin sounds like it possesses all of the trappings of a ‘summer movie’. ‘Magic Mike’, the latest experience from Steven Soderbergh (‘Contagion’, ‘Ocean’s…’ movies), steers us down the path towards titillating fun and excitement. While the road trip seems like one that has been taken many times before, there are a few roadside attractions that occasionally will make one take a double take.
Familiarity is something that ‘Magic Mike’s primary plot line covers quite well. That classic story of the ‘stripper with a heart of gold’ is retold, but with a twist this time: the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. (Although, in this case, it could be said ‘thong on the other … best not to go there) The titular character, Mike, is played by Soderbergh’s current muse and hunk of the moment, Channing Tatum (‘Haywire’, ’21 Jump Street’). Mike is good guy. He’s not only a good guy, but a good looking guy. He works construction, appears to have a side business, and lives on the beach in Tampa, FL. Life seems good for Mike. One day while roofing, Mike runs across Adam (Alex Pettyfer, ‘In Time’), who seems a little luckless. Later that night, Mike takes pity on Adam and gets him into a nightclub. There are ulterior motives here, as Mike reveals his true profession as a male stripper.
This is where the air of familiarity wafts heavily. There are a number of beats that movies that have used in the past, and Soderbergh puts his own take on them. There is someone in a sordid profession, who is above it, and is trying to rise out of it. Also, a rags-to-riches tale occurs. Expect some slight betrayals, and the requisite unrequited love story, with the target being Adam’s sister, Brooke, played by relatively unknown actress Cody Horn. Perhaps these story tropes are familiar sounding. Writer Reid Carolin combines a fair amount of character arcs reused in other similar stories, and employs them here to lesser effect. While these lead to a fun first half, with a number of well-landed laughs, the constant clichés combined with an increasing seriousness slow the second act considerably.
This is where the hand of a versatile professional such as Soderbergh is felt. Despite the well-worn plot devices employed, Soderbergh shows these through the lens of the current economic climate in the U.S. While Mike appears to be doing fine, living on the beach and partying with beautiful women seemingly every night, all is not as sound as it seems. Mike has other aspirations, and requires banking assistance for these. However, post-housing bubble crash, mediocre credit scores hurt his chances, which will ring true with many viewers. Also, Mike does not take the protective plastic off of the inside of his truck, so that it will ‘look new when he needs to sell it’; not ‘if’, but ‘when’. In light of the pitiful savings and earnings (“$230… a pretty good night!”) seen, it becomes pretty apparent that Mike is probably rolling in as much debt as your average American.
Soderbergh’s directions bring some saving graces to the movie, bringing his love of unique angles and tight shots seen in other works of his such as ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ or ‘The Limey’. Once again, we are reminded that he also loves shooting scenes in moving vehicles, as there were no less than five of those. Perhaps it is commentary indicative of how much time the average U.S. citizen spends in a motor vehicle daily.
Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, who plays Channing’s boss Dallas, seem quite at home in their roles as male strippers. Certain actor/director combinations seem almost symbiotic, and perhaps Tatum has found his in Soderbergh, as he delivered a believable, nuanced performance. The female roles in ‘Magic Mike’, however, were either forgettable or downright distracting. Olivia Munn plays Joanna, a benefit providing friend of Mike’s. Munn’s performance was nothing noteworthy, but at least it didn’t detract like Horn’s did. Soderbergh seems to like to take female actors with little or no experience, such as Sasha Grey in ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ or Gina Carano in ‘Haywire’, and use them for authenticity’s sake. However, those women weren’t natural actors, their ‘day jobs’ being a porn star and MMA fighter, respectively. Horn, though, has acted in a few films before. One could not tell here, as she was quite wooden throughout. Her look and delivery made it appear that she dropped out of the Denise Richards School for Acting. That she had such a major role really hurt the movie. One would have to wonder if she got the role due to being the daughter of the film studio’s, Warner Bros., head.
The plot and acting issues withstanding, ‘Magic Mike’ was still an enjoyable look into a world rarely thought about, less explored. Soderbergh follows up the last year’s heavy movie, ‘Contagion’, with something more airy and fun, which is a great fit for the usual summer cinema fare.
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