Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike
The Closing Night Film of the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival
Photo by Claudette Barius

Steven Soderbergh’s last movie was an action flick centered on a woman. For his next trick, he’s turned the tables around once more and made a comic stripper movie where the dancers are men. Inspired by producer/star Channing Tatum’s own experiences as an 18-year-old stripper, Magic Mike is a beefcake picture that 25 years ago might’ve starred Tom Cruise or Patrick Swayze. Think of it as a slightly smarter take on something like Cocktail… and I’ll just leave you to enter your own cock and tail joke here, but suffice it to say there is plenty of both. In fact, if the random squeals erupting from the audience at the film’s LA Film Festival World Premiere this evening are indicative, Magic Mike could do a lot of business as a raucous girls’ (or gays’) night out picture. It’s a gleeful objectification of the male form. There’s some cheesecake for husbands and boyfriends too (Olivia Munn topless! Commence collective nerdgasm!), but mainly they’ll just have to content themselves with dreams of being every woman’s physical fantasy like Mike and his pals.

After making a solid splash in the indie pic A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, I have to admit I’d begun writing off Channing Tatum as an empty hunk of meat. Earlier this year though, he proved he had a flare for comedy in 21 Jump Street and he brings a lot of humor and charisma (with or without clothes) to the role of Mike, the hottest male stripper in Tampa. Though he’s the best, Mike has dreams of going legitimate and starting his own furniture making business. Alas, he finds credit hard to come by despite all of the cash he makes nights. Enter hunky and brooding Adam, a 19-year-old that Mike meets at his daytime construction job. Adam has the raw material to become a stripping superstar if only Mike can bring a little refinement to bear. He takes Adam under his wing and promises Adam’s older sister that he’ll watch out for him.

I think you can pretty much connect most of the narrative dots from here. Story isn’t really Magic Mike’s strong suit. It’s really about the milieu and the characters and the performances, oh and the rippling hunks of man flesh. If that’s a problem for you, then you probably already know to stay away based on the trailer. If it’s not, you get a winning performance from Channing Tatum who is compelling on stage and off. Also terrific is Matthew McConaughey who seems to be having the time of his life getting up on stage and making women squeal with delight. Everyone in fact seems to be having a fabulous time, except for Alex Pettyfer whose Adam is mostly an unlikable, unintelligent and uninteresting lump. It’s actually a little hard to believe Mike puts up with him as long as he does.

Soderbergh’s contribution is mainly in the digital cinematography and in the nice, loose performances he teases out of his cast. Much as with his underrated action pic Haywire, he has nothing especially profound to say about art or the human condition or anything else and that’s probably for the best. It seems he’s just set out to make the best male stripper movie that $5 million can buy and he’s completely pulled it off. It might not be that deep and the story is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but Magic Mike makes up for it by being light, funny and charming. Yes, it’s sexy too for anyone but the most uptight of homophobes.

9 Responses to “LA Film Fest 2012: Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike””

  1. I’ll be seeing Magic Mike Monday. Sounds like it won’t be as much as a challenge to like it as it was in the case of Burlesque.

  2. Unless you’re a homophobe, I can’t see a single reason not to like Magic Mike. The trailer makes it pretty clear what it’s all about which is hunky guys taking their clothes off for women whose husbands or boyfriends suck in bed.

  3. My girlfriend wants to see this and I enjoy Soderbergh movies, I really don’t see the male aversion to watching this with a date/gf/wife.

  4. I saw the film this evening and just reread your review. My rating approximates yours. The film seems destined for some healthy box office. I regard it as a sort of flip side of Burlesque, but much better and a much broader demographic.

    I guess the only area where you and I have a different take is the Adam character:

    Everyone in fact seems to be having a fabulous time, except for Alex Pettyfer whose Adam is mostly an unlikable, unintelligent and uninteresting lump. It’s actually a little hard to believe Mike puts up with him as long as he does.

    Actor Pettyfer seems to me to have more appeal than you give him. It’s subtle, with darkness and danger implied.

    What struck me particularly – aside from Tatum’s raw energy – was the lengths to which McConaughey, a longtime bankable star, has taken his character in this film. I’m thinking especially of his big scene onstage near the end but don’t want to spoil anything here.

  5. Saw this last night and thought it wasn another nail in Soderbergh’s film can coffin. It’s not really the movie that is being advertised and it’s a lot less fun (meaning it’s no fun) than it could have been. Tatum is terrible, Pettyfer is in the Kirsten Stewart School of Glum Acting Honors Program. Once the miniature pig arrives on the scene I threw my hands up in exhaustion.
    It makes Coyote Ugly look like Gone with the Wind.
    I just published my review on my site today.

  6. Yes Pierre, someone else commented somewhere about Pettyfer being great. He just paled for me compared to the energy of Tatum and McConaughey.

    Joe, how is the movie different than what’s being advertised? I only watched the trailer once when it first came out and this seemed to be right in line with my expectations, if anything more entertaining than I’d have expected a male stripper movie to be.

    Having said that, I’d never make the case for this being a great film. I stand by my comparison to an ’80s beefcake movie for better or for worse.

  7. This being Soderbergh, I think the tone is a bit seamier and grittier than squealing fans might expect or hope for. But I certainly don’t think this will hurt Soderbergh’s career. If anything, it’ll show his versatility and (presumably) his ability to make money while doing a decent enough film.

    I keep wondering if McConaughey had a body double for one of the more risqué shots toward the end.

  8. Pierre, I was actually surprised at how un-sleazy and good natured it was. The guy-loving half of the polite film festival crowd I saw it with seemed to go bonkers for it.

  9. The production numbers are a highlight. . . .

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