Director: Steven Soderbergh
Reviewed: 9 March 2013
"Magic Mike" promises one thing and delivers another, and watching Steven Soderbergh manipulate his audience is one of the year's great cinematic pleasures. Billed as the male-stripper movie with beefcake posters of stars Channing Tatum, Joseph Mangianello, and Matthew McConaughey, "Magic Mike" offers a slight commentary on our collapsing financial economy as well as the moving journey of one man trying to find his way. Tatum's titular Mike recruits and mentors young former college football player Adam (Alex Pettyfer), bringing him into the fold of the underworld of Tampa's nightlife. Mike stars in the all-male revue led by Dallas (McConaughey, a revelation) and Mike proves himself a virtuoso onstage and a saavy businessman with aspirations beyond pleasing the hordes of adoring, screaming female fans. With its June, July, August title cards, "Magic Mike" offers a vicarious look into the ephemeral industry of skin and the commodification of flesh, with incredible dance sequences punctuating the film every twenty minutes or so.
"Magic Mike" is not all flash and style. The film has substance, and in particular, the film's ending counters everything that conventional films have taught us to believe about big endings. Instead, Soderbergh focuses on a quiet epiphany, an important change in a character's core philosophy. And that choice is set against the backdrop of the aging Dallas and his crew of performers. McConaughey's Dallas runs his crew of dancers with a ferocity of focus both funny and riveting. A scene with him in short shorts teaching a new dancer the ropes is one of the year's best. His performance is the most memorable with its philosophical ranting, its explanation of the rules of the house to the rowdy women. "But, I think I see a lot of rule-breakers here tonight," McConaughey purrs at the adoring crowd, using his physicality and charisma to the utmost. Pettyfer brings less to the table as "The Kid" probably by both design and by performance. Olivia Munn and Cody Horn play less fully realized characters who offer differing perspectives on Mike's life choices.
Soderbergh brings his own take and style on this story, complete with the sorts of artsy angles, red and blue colored lenses, and jump cuts that make this clearly a Soderbergh film. He wisely shoots the dance sequences broadly, giving us a sense of the stage and the crowd, allowing his performers to use the space with their bodies. And similarly, Soderbergh creates space in his story for Mike to lose his way and find it. There is another movie in here, one that paints Dallas as more malevolent and the conflict with Mike as more overt. However, I think Soderbergh paints lightly here, making Mike see Dallas as a potential future for himself, not necessarily as an adversary but more the Ghost of Christmas Future. The result is an affecting, funny, and marvelously entertaining film with more than enough grinding and dancing to satisfy some audiences, in addition to a surprising amount of heart. There is a significant degree of difficulty in crafting this film that Soderbergh embraces. Well-done.