Magic Mike Review
by Daniel Rester
Ever since sex, lies, and videotape (1989), prolific director Steven Soderbergh has shown the entertainment business that he is not one to shy away from “different” subjects in film. He also always shoots such subjects with a curious and creative eye. His latest, Magic Mike, is no exception.
Mike tells the story of the title character (played by Channing Tatum, whom the story is partially based on), a male stripper from Florida who dreams of becoming a furniture builder. As a carpenter during the day, Mike meets a down-on-his-luck young man named Adam (Alex Pettyfer). He soon takes Adam under his wing and shows him the ways of his nightlife.
As Adam becomes more and more involved with the male stripper world, Mike finds himself more wanting to leave it and try harder for his dream goal. He also starts to develop a romantic connection to Adam’s watchful sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), while Adam starts abusing his newfound wealth and lifestyle. In the midst of all of this is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the stripper club owner who wants to take the act to the next level.
On the surface level, Mike’s seemingly obvious target audience is just women who want eye candy. While there is plenty of male stripping, people just expecting this display the whole time may leave disappointed. However, others not expecting much besides male nudity may be unexpectedly satisfied. This is because Soderbergh raises the thin material by building a rich atmosphere, caring about his characters, and using plenty of tricks in order to maintain well-rounded (male and female) interest. Such a style takes a few detours away from the stripping at times.
While the film’s long length matched with the slim story isn’t fully justifiable story wise, Soderbergh manages to exude intrigue for the audience throughout. His setup of scenes both in and out of the club are impressive, with camera angles and editing even wowing occasionally in aiding the direction. Some shots are quick and mobile while others really settle and sink in (especially in the detailing of a drug overdose). There is also the beautiful and distinctive Soderbergh “yellow glow” applied to many of the outside shots, really bringing out some of the Florida locations.
Soderbergh’s capturing also expertly brings out the various tones of the script in stronger ways than what they could have been. After a lighthearted (and hilarious) first act, Mike slowly descends into darkness for heavy drama that even stings toward the end. The director really does a fine job at alternating this emotional line while keeping it realistic-feeling to the characters and situations. Such exploration into the ups and downs of the unlikely career at hand make the film even more fascinating, and sort of make it like a Boogie Nights-lite.
For the most part, the acting of Mike is also really commendable. Tatum gives the performance of his career so far, bringing real heart and humanity to the character of Mike. Though the script makes Mike’s actions questionable at times, Tatum still manages to make the character likable all of the time. Pettyfer also turns in a fine performance as the ignorant and persuadable Adam, and he and Tatum share strong chemistry together as the lead characters.
Tatum and Pettyfer are surrounded by equally praiseworthy supporting players. Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello are a lot of fun as two of the other strippers, though their characters do get pushed to the background after a bit. Horn and Olivia Munn, as two different love interests of Tatum’s character, don’t deliver as strongly as all of the male actors here but they are still pretty good. The standout in Mike, however, is McConaughey. His performance as Dallas is completely entertaining, with the actor bringing both charm and authoritarian strength as the strip club owning character.
After seeing that Mike goes beyond what it could have been, it is frustrating that it does not meet its potential greatness. This is because the movie has a few unshakeable faults. As mentioned before, the script is too basic altogether to fit with the film’s length and Bomer and Manganiello are merely pushed to the side after a while. Also, Horn is an okay actress, but she often comes across as either dull or sour when it comes to her character. Her and Munn’s characters’ relationships with Mike also come across as strange and not fully believable. And finally, Mike ends on a weak and unsatisfying note that really lessens the impact the film could have had.
Such flaws and annoyances aside, Mike is still an arresting and entertaining film. Soderbergh and most of the cast are very skillful here — and deserve the attention of more audience members than just women looking for beefcakes. Mike is likely to be disregarded by many skeptical viewers, but the people who give it a chance may be pleasantly surprised by the quality the filmmakers bring to the table.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.