Saturday, June 30, 2012

Magic Mike

MAGIC MIKE: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn (110 min.)

The marketing campaign behind Magic Mike has done a great disservice to swarms of women all across the country.  This is not the feel good dance flick with male flesh in abundance and tons of laughs.  This is not a night at the male strip club.  There are laughs, there is male flesh - and plenty of female flesh to go along with it - but Magic Mike is more than what the advertisements lead us to believe.  And that is a good thing.  It is a real film, with style and flair, and with magnificent performances from two of the most unlikley actors. 

The story is an age old narrative about a young man seduced by an old pro into a life of glitz and glamour, until things go wrong in one way or another.  It is the rookie cop and the seasoned vet, it is a story you have seen.  But it's told with some interesting characters and instead of the police station we have the background of Xquisite, a "male dance revue" in Tampa, Florida.  That is where Mike (Channing Tatum) moonlights to make the big bucks while working various jobs during the day.  At his construction day job, Mike runs into Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a wayward young kid living with his sister and aimless in just about every aspect of his life.  One night, Adam hitches a ride with Mike and is pulled into the nightclub; he sees the women laughing and clawing and swooning over Mike as he dances on stage, and before long he is reluctantrly thrown onto the stage himself.  His timid undressing act is taken as just that, an act, and from there he has the taste of the night life.  He never looks back.

The club is run by Dallas, an aging stripper played by Matthew McConaughey as a desperate, but consistently amusing has been.  In ridiculous costumes and with that thick Southern drawl, Dallas runs the show like a circus ringleader.  There are various other dancers floating like satellites around the central story of Mike and Adam.  Mike strikes up a thin romance with Adam's reluctant sister, Brooke (Cody Horn).  One of the best scenes in the film is when Brooke stops by the nightclub to spy on her brother stripping, then stays to catch Mike's routine.  The intercut between Mike's stellar dance moves and Brooke's softening face as she slowly lets her guard down is a fascinating and wonderfully edited scene.  All the while, Mike longs to get a loan to start up his own small business while Dallas plans on uprooting to Miami, where the real action lies.

Magic Mike is not alway a raucous good time.  It rarely is, for that matter.  There wouldn't be much of a movie to discuss had it been an endless series of stripteases.  In a world of all nighters and the obsession to look good, drugs are never far away and Adam falls into a downward spiral.  Mike struggles with his own issues, and perhaps the only thing he realizes is he doesn't want to be the next Dallas.  Which leads me back around to Matthew McConaughey.  This is the type of unguarded, selfless, energetic performance that grabs Supporting Actor nominations.  I don't imagine he will be remembered when the time comes, and that is a shame because he honestly deserves it.  The way Dallas shifts, without an ounce of self awareness, between cockiness and humor and desperation and darkness, is a revelation.  It's also proof that McConaughey has changed back into the actor we all thought he might be ten years ago.

Channing Tatum is not far behind in his own performance.  The film relies on him, and his charisma and continual ability to evolve as an actor has taken another step.  And it didn't hurt things that he started out as a male stripper - you can see that talent in his stunning dance moves.  Unfortunately, Alex Pettyfer cannot manage to keep up as Adam.  Through big stretches he is forgotten, then when he reappears he is less and less interesting.  I wanted more of an impact with his character, since he is the one with the darkest and most daring arch.  And, as I mentioned earlier, the romance between Mike and Brooke is a bit thin, but I suppose I could live with that when it's all said and done.

Director Steven Soderbergh has always been a fan of natural lighting, and he uses it in Magic Mike to great effect.  The day scenes look almost bleached from the Tampa sun, stained with shadows, and the nightclub scenes are full of spotlighting.  It adds a sort of effortless depth.  Soderbergh is one of the most interesting directors around, impossible to categorize, and he has branched out once again (although echoes of Boogie Nights rang through my head throughout, which is fine.  It makes sense).  I have a feeling there will be a few groups of confused women leaving theaters expecting a wild and wooly time of male stripping and hearty laughs.  This is more of a film about the side effects of fun and games than the fun and games themselves.  It's no way to kick off a bachelorette party, and if you ask me that's not really a bad thing.