Mark Reviews Movies

Magic Mike

MAGIC MIKE

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Munn

MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 6/29/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 29, 2012

There are elements of a morality play at work in Magic Mike, the story of a male stripper who yearns for more but becomes caught up in the struggle to make something of himself to the point that it's a challenge to actually go out and do it. That's not to say Reid Carolin's screenplay condemns stripping as an inherent evil; it's simply the easy route for the eponymous character (That the path is filled with alcohol, drugs, and plenty of women who only see him as an object makes us note the morality angle a little more clearly). He wants more out of his life, and, as long as he settles for going up on that stage four nights a week, he won't be able to accomplish his goals.

The man is Mike (Channing Tatum), and the title refers to his stage name. He is not the most popular dancer at the club where he works, but he is probably the one with the most business sense. He's certainly the one with best work ethic. In addition to dancing at the club, he also manages it (He calls it an "event planning" enterprise in polite company), along with an automotive detailing business and a construction company during the day. He doesn't see himself as a stripper but as an entrepreneur. His dream, though, is to start a custom furniture company—to be his own boss and go to sleep every night knowing that he's doing what he loves.

There are no aspirations for fame or fortune here; Mike only wants to be known well enough that he can bring in enough money to convince the bank to give him a loan to start his furniture business. It's a simple dream, but it's also a surprisingly humble one, too.

We can't help but like Mike for the modesty of his ambition, which, of course, flies in the face of his lack of modesty when he gets up on stage. It's work and nothing else to him. The perks could be enjoyable. He knows a woman named Joanna (Olivia Munn) who will come over for sex whenever he calls. She's probably using him more than he's using her, though. "You just have to look pretty," she tells him when he tries to start a more serious conversation with her. He's fighting off loneliness; she's trying to relieve the stress of becoming a psychiatrist. Mike needs her more than she needs him, that's for sure.

There must be a counterbalance to Mike's decency (Even his telling off of a bank's loan officer is courteous), and it's Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a perennial slacker who lives with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn) and refuses to go to a job interview because he would have to wear a tie. He's very adamant about his "no tie" rule. Mike and Adam meet at a roofing job, where Adam has gotten work by lying about his experience. Mike's frustrated but helpful.

The two run into each other by chance outside a club. Mike helps him get in on the condition that Adam get some customers fort he show that night. Adam's only supposed to help with props but winds up on stage after one of the dancers passes out. "The kid" has promise, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the club's owner, notes. Adam is drawn to the idea of earning money just for taking off some of his clothes.

Director Steven Soderbergh shoots those dance sequences with dynamic flourish (The camera is almost always moving in ways that punctuate the actors' motions) and plenty of polish (The stark contrast of the darkened house of the club with the perfectly lit stage is itself a contrast to Soderbergh's washed-out cinematography for the scenes outside of the club). The scenes are entirely about the party atmosphere of Mike's nightlife, with women worked up into a frenzy as music blares on the soundtrack.

Carolin and Soderbergh are just as fascinated with the juxtaposition of the quieter behind-the-scenes happenings. A pair of dancers just audibly discusses oils in the background as Adam tells his life story to another; he's also distracted by a certain type of pump that sneaks into frame and his peripheral vision while learning the ropes.

The key to the backstage scenes is the relationship between Mike and Dallas. Dallas has big plans for the company, and Mike is more than willing to go along as long as it means more money for him. The two have known each other for six years, and there's a tangible strain between them. Dallas claims to be Mike's friend, but his mind is always on business, refusing to acknowledge any concrete plans for Mike to become part-owner when they move from Tampa to a larger place in Miami.

Brooke becomes something of a conscience for Mike. Even though she only jokes about his night job, it's obvious she's uncomfortable with it. Obviously, there's an undertone of romance to their relationship, but Carolin keeps it light—more playful flirtation. Tatum and especially Horn have a natural ease in their performances, which helps to make the characters' connection grow in an unforced way.

If the final act of Magic Mike does become more of a straightforward morality tale, it's not without having established the particulars of the characters' motives beforehand. There is some genuine sympathy for these characters, who only have a differing opinions on the best way to achieve the same goal.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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