Friday, July 6, 2012

Magic Mike Review

I am quite the fan of Steven Soderbergh's previous films; I adore the Ocean's 11 trilogy, and quite enjoyed The Girlfriend Experience, Contagion, and this year's Haywire (I'm a bit iffy on The Informant!).  So needless to say I was intrigued by the premise of Magic Mike - a film about the world of male stripping, loosely based upon Channing Tatum's personal experiences in said industry.  To be honest, I thought that trailers were entertaining and intriguing; there really aren't many films like this out there.  The weight of Soderbergh and Tatum together (having previously teamed for Haywire and re-teaming for next year's The Bitter Pill) were more than enough to encourage me to see this film - after all, I'm more than willing to give anything a chance.  And I'm very glad that I did.  Magic Mike is simply fantastic.

Yes, Magic Mike's narrative is set in the world of male stripping...and there is plenty of beefy dude stripping going on (including Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Alex Rodgriguez, Kevin Nash, and eventually Alex Pettyfer), but at its heart that's not really what MM is about.  Its about a character's journey from relatively young naivete down into the depths of drugs, alcohol, and general self-destruction, and is quite the fascinating journey to watch unfold on screen.  If you're coming to this film just to see beefcakes strip you'll get your money's worth, but you'll also be getting a fantastic drama with real characters and real emotion.

The film is titled "Magic Mike" for a reason; throughout the film we follow the life of Mike as a multiple-business-manager (and male stripper) who happens to want to design and build custom furniture.  He meets Pettyfer's Adam one day on a construction site and their fates become intertwined; Adam needs a job (and money) so Mike brings him to his all-male revue, "Xquisite."  After an unfortunate series of events Adam ends up on stage, a relative "virgin," and has to awkwardly disrobe for the first time in front of droves of screaming women.  Its at this point that Adam's story more or less takes over, as we see him become more acclimated to his new profession.

What I really enjoyed about MM is the way that Soderbergh builds characters in his films.  We are introduced to Mike, Adam, Brooke (Adam's sister), and the stripping crew in an organic and real manner.  Nothing felt forced and relationships developed as they would in real life.  That said, the acting, on the whole, was fantastic.  I am a huge fan of Tatum, yet starting to hate him for how awesome he is at virtually everything he does!  Matthew McConaughey is great as the charismatic/slimy owner/MC of the revue.  One of my favorite lines of dialogue in any movie is his "Alright, alright, alright" in Dazed and Confused, and we get to hear it at least three times throughout the course of the film.  Silly, I know, but pretty awesome.  

Another stand-out for me was Olivia Munn.  The films that I've seen her in (Date Night and Iron Man 2) had her relegated to virtually cameo performances.  Granted, she's only in the film for maybe three or four scenes, but in that time she was great.  The rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag; Cody Horn seems to vary between great and bored.  The remaning revue dancers are perfectly adequate, if not underused - you can tell that Kevin Nash (WWE wrestler) can't dance, as he's relegated to the background for most of the dance sequences.

And now this brings me to Alex Pettyfer.  To say the least, I am not a fan of his.  I honestly can't really stand him...which is true for parts of MM.  At times I just wanted to punch him in the face; however, on the whole I think his performance was solid throughout the film.  His descent into uncontrolled self-destruction is believable and painful to watch.

The way in which Soderbergh shoots dialogue in some of his films (MM) included is simply enjoyable to watch.  Rather than cut from angle to angle, it feels like he sets the camera down and says "just talk" to his actors.  Conversations feel real (maybe a bit too real at Tatum stammers through a crucial scene as if totally unscripted) and go on for what seems like an eternity - which is a good thing.  Much like in The Girlfriend Experience, I felt almost like a voyeur, peeking into these people's lives and watching it unfold.  Yeah, that may sound creepy but its true; the way in which Soderbergh shoots certain scenes really brings you into the story.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I really enjoyed Magic Mike.  Its a great film with an interesting (and well-trodden) narrative and fantastic characters.  Soderbergh brings a certain energy to bear that comes though brilliantly; the dialogue is engaging, the characters feel real, the dancing/stripping scenes are entertaining, and the narrative plays out organically.  Some people may not like the hard-cutting title cards (displaying what month we're in) and the relatively sharp cut to black with the final scene, but I enjoyed those aspects with nearly everything else in this film.  The only real faults I can find with MM are with Cody Horn (as an actress, and at times), and one narrative fault; SPOILER ALERT - Pettyfer's Adam eventually takes over for Magic Mike (at least on stage) in the end.  We don't really get to see him as a threat to Mike over the course of the film.  The latter half of the film houses some sinister tones and plot threads, and I feel that if the conflict between them had spread to the revue, then perhaps the ending may have been a bit more poignant.  Other than that I think Magic Mike is a great time.

Magic Mike is a fantastic character study that happens to be set within the world of male stripping.

The Bearded Bullet.

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