Would it matter If I said Magic Mike was a bad movie? Are there persuasive enough words to scare off those who are jumping up and down to see Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street), Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (White Collar), Kevin Nash (WWF/WWE wrestler), and Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) strip down to thongs? I didn’t think so. And as you continue shaking your head no, I can honestly say that Magic Mike is a good time, even though it’s not necessarily a great movie.
Tatum is “Magic Mike,” an entrepreneur with bad credit, living out the dreams of young men by having a casual sexual relationship with a liberal psych major (Olivia Munn). Mike also moonlights as a stripper at Tampa’s finest establishment for male revue, the Xquisite. He also gets a percentage of the club’s cover admissions so what little spare time he has, Mike uses it to rope in any prospecting customer on foot. The thought being, if Xquisite succeeds, so does everyone it supports.
His eyes go “cha-ching” when he stumbles upon Adam (Pettyfer), a typical directionless 19-year old who reminds Mike of his younger self, opening to him a world no young man could resist: money, women, and life as one continuous joy ride. Xquisite takes him in instantly, run by a rowdy, former feature dancer, Dallas played impeccably by Matthew McConaughey.
Adam saves the club on this night after one of the dancers becomes intoxicated; to everyone’s surprise he is a born natural. Scratch that, Adam has no inhibitions, showing that he has the skills and the body to be successful in this line of work. His dancing on the other hand, leaves much to be desired, but it’s nothing that Dallas’ boot camp can’t correct, and thus, “The Kid” is born. Adam’s responsible, older and maternal sister Brooke (Cody Horn) doesn’t see Mike’s influence on her brother as a good thing. Mike makes a promise to her to take care of Adam–an obvious premonition of bad things to come.
Mike fell into the industry too but refuses to let it define him, even though he’s been doing it for several years. His real passion is finding discarded objects and creating new furniture out of it. Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt makes a brief but memorable performance as a banker who Mike visits for a loan to start his business, but fails to exhibit a reputable job history or the financial strength, despite bringing $13,000 in cash. As Brooke eloquently says to Mike, “That’s a lot of ones.”
In the span of a few months, a surge in business allows Dallas to unveil new plans to move the club into a larger space in Miami, where the bigger market entices everyone to take one tiny step closer to their dreams. New opportunities allow Adam’s irresponsibility to foster and that’s where the party bus hits the brakes.
There’s been plenty of stories about strippers, or just the classic tale of a young adult working the discreditable job to pursue their real dreams, like Coyote Ugly, for instance. They exploit the ups and humble the audience with the downs, leaving an unclear picture of the road ahead. Some are more hopeful than others, and even though there are far fewer stories like this about men than women, there isn’t much new brought to the table–well, except for a penis pump.
Some of the most amusing details of the story are not explored, or simply, not examined far enough. Like, where are the gay patrons and/or dancers? Where was a scene of Mike actually making his custom furniture? His passion is only confirmed by his knowledge of industrial designers, as if there was a set designer baseball cards released. We see clues around the apartment that he does in fact have a passion for creating incredible things out of found objects–we just don’t see him exercise that talent. Perhaps that’s the point. That his passion was merely a hobby and that he doesn’t know what he wants out of life, and that kind of uncertainty doesn’t always translate.
Reid Carolin wrote the script, inspired by Tatum’s actual beginnings in the entertainment business as male revue dancer. Steven Soderbergh directs and his flair for the visual is present and know, this is a much more successful venture than Haywire. Still, it’s almost as if they didn’t quite see what gold could have been mined had they pursued one of the other subplots or went completely into a bit of fantasy like The Cooler or a hip Ocean’s 11 or Tarantino-esque ending could have put a better seal of approval. Is Magic Mike trying to paint the highs and lows of stripping? Is it showing one man’s exit out of the industry and another’s entrance, or neither? We’re not really sure where Mike is at by the film’s end.
What is pursued and not so subtly, is Mike’s hopeful romancing of the stone–both figuratively and literally–in Brooke who has as much flavor as instant mashed potatoes. Appearing to be so put together in the first half, Mike concedes nearly everything in the second. Nevermind if Adam continues his wicked inclinations in Miami, where temptation is amplified. Both Brooke and Mike would have to deal with them–eventually, but there’s no room for that in a rush to make the audience go “awwww.” In fact by the film’s end, I found myself wanting to follow Dallas and the dancers to South Beach instead of being left in Tampa with Mike and Brooke.
Above all of this complaining, the dancing is fun, admirably athletic and wildly entertaining. To my knowledge there were no stunt actors and that makes it even more pleasing. And while he could still use work as a dramatic actor (Mike’s stammering apology to Brooke is one of the most painful scenes to watch this side of Human Centipede), Tatum deserves all the credit as an electrifying dancer (which he first showcased his skills in the Step Up films), and the comedian we enjoyed in 21 Jump Street.
If there’s anyone who earns his tips in this movie, it’s McConaughey, who ignites every scene he’s in, and I’m not talking about his abs–which are prominently paraded throughout. Yes he’s a one trick stallion but he is the most vivid of many characters who are portrayed honestly. He gives the film texture, some teeth, and even sings a pretty good tune or two. And for those wondering, McConaughey does eventually take the stage in a fitting climax to send the crowd home with a happy ending. (Ugh. I knew writing this review would have its problems.)
Women and gay men will line up to see the film with not a care for the story, but the real challenge at the box office is getting straight men to see it too, because that’s what’s going to keep the film out past a month. I sat in a screening of 400 people and I’m not exaggerating when I say that men accounted for 10% of the audience. It does act out several young male fantasies, probably more so than what most women would ever want to admit to knowing the behavior of the tipping extras in the film. There are even more naked breasts (Munn) than exposed packages seen on the screen. Oh and some dweeby college frat boys get a righteous fist-pounding. So, chest-beating macho men, that should be enough reason to see it, right?
But that’s the difference. Where women could be satisfied with seeing almost everything and filling in the blanks with their mind, so too are the paying customers of the Xquisite Male Revue. And I’m sure there will be women perturbed at the double standard in the lack of full frontal nudity. Yet, women know revue is a cheap thrill and happily go home to their men at the end of the night. When do we ever see or hear about women trying to save a male stripper from his industry, or falling in love after a private dance? And don’t worry guys, they’ll come home to you too after seeing this movie. They’ll probably tell you that like the adult industry, Magic Mike had its highs and lows, as noted above, but they’ll be smiling inside knowing they got their share of cheap thrills because that more than anything is what will stick with them.