When I was in my early 20's, I spent a few months working at an Indianapolis strip joint. The place was called Hots, and it existed quite clearly on the lower end of the strip joint spectrum. It was the kind of joint where you could touch if you paid enough or if the dancer working at the time just happened to like you, but it was also the kind of place where drunken bouncers might toss you out just because you looked like a cop.
Now then, if you happen to know me or at least have seen me you already know that I'm not male stripper material. My physique more resembles that of Drew Carey, while I've yet to find a strip joint with a wheelchair accessible stage. I happened to work for one of the owner's side businesses. Everyone in this place had a side business, whether that be prostitution or drugs or construction or whatever.
When the 70's came along and Chippendales came to life, married men everywhere started to panic because we knew what was going on in strip clubs and we didn't want our wives and girlfriends going there. Of course, it wasn't long before we learned that while our women could party hearty these clubs were less seedy and more celebratory than strip joints featuring women.
Before Magic Mike
star Channing Tatum hit it big as an actor, he spent some time in the world of male dancers and it's his real life story that has inspired this Warner Brothers release. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Tatum's producing partner Reid Carolin, Magic Mike
may very well be 2012's most unexpected critical and box-office success. Despite being helmed by the Oscar-winning Soderbergh, it would be reasonable to say that a good majority of film critics and the movie-going public expected Magic Mike
to be, at best, a campfest along the lines of Showgirls.
stars Channing Tatum as Mike, a serial entrepreneur whose main gig is as a male dancer at the Xquisite Male Dance Revue. To call Mike (or Tatum) chiseled would be an understatement, a fact we've already learned from his appearances in the Step Up
films but a fact that is put forth center stage here in Magic Mike.
It doesn't matter whether he's dressed as a cop, a soldier or whatever, because when Mike starts dancing the women go wild and when his clothes come off?
Believe it or not, Magic Mike
even has a story to go along with it. Mike meets up with Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old with a protective older sister (Cody Horn). It's not long, however, before even a protective sister can't stop Adam from being pushed up on stage and dubbed "The Kid" by Mike. Magic Mike
centers around the friendship between the slightly older Mike and the newbie Adam, whose introduction into stripping is said to be the aspect of the story similar to that of Tatum's (minus the modest downfall).
Soderbergh does a stellar job of bringing us into Mike's world in a way that feels natural and almost documentary style, with a lensing approach emphasizing a desaturated look that gives the world a sort of "lived in" appearance. He builds up this world for all that it has to offer with its cash, laughs, good times, endless sex and seemingly endless possibilities. Yet, even through the film's laughs and most celebratory moments, there's an underlying tone in Magic Mike
that only a skilled director like Soderbergh could bring to life. So many filmmakers would have been content to either play this film for laughs or drama, but Soderbergh wisely takes a more authentic approach and builds a truly heartfelt film amidst the backdrop of stripping that feels like a cinematic cousin to P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights.
If he weren't already a box-office star, Magic Mike
would turn Channing Tatum into one. Tatum owns the stage and owns the screen with a performance that is only out-chiseled by a torso that is so divine that Pat Roberts may very well blame it for the next natural disaster. We've always known that Tatum could dance and be a romantic leading man, but Tatum is so funny, sexy, sweet, sensitive and downright perfect here that he becomes both a woman's fantasy and a guy's guy in the same performance.
As good as Tatum is, the film may actually be stolen by Matthew McConaughey. In what may very well be his best performance to date, McConaughey oozes the sensuality that has long made women swoon but also adds enough depth to his role as the club's owner, Dallas, that he serves up the film's most satisfying and complex performance. Joe Manganiello is terrific as "Big Dick" Richie, a dancer with a rather obvious "gift" and a good portion of the film's laughs. Riley Keough and Olivia Munn do fine in generally one-note supporting roles. As Adam, Alex Pettyfer is the film's weakest link with a stiffness, pun intended, that contradicts the film's free-spirited vibe. He's fine in his dance sequences, but when he's left to serve up actual dialogue he falls short of the other actors.
The brilliance of Magic Mike
may very well come courtesy of Soderbergh's insightful yet laid back directorial style that plays observer more than judge and jury. As equally as Magic Mike
serves up the good times, it also serves as a somewhat cautionary tale of what lies behind the gleam in the eyes of these dancers whose dreams are likely bigger than they ever will be in life.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic