The film that is present is actually a complete 180 from what the previews make it out to be.
I’ll be up front with all of you immediately. I was excited for Magic Mike ever since I saw the first preview back in early Spring. Channing Tatum, who is easily my choice for breakout star of the year, doing a film with Steven Soderbergh? Yeah, I’m there. Soderbergh has been on an interesting run in the last 5-6 years. Other than Ocean’s Thirteen, which I felt was complete dreck, he’s been on fire. Lately it feels like he’s been trying a more naturalistic approach to filmmaking. More on that later, let’s get to the meat of Magic Mike (pun intended). Mike is played by yes, the ubiquitous Channing Tatum. Tatum is actually the catalyst for the story behind the film as it’s inspired by his life exploits as a male stripper from years ago before he was famous.
So I found myself in the theater with my girlfriend and slowly watched it fill with eager women of all ages. Some of the younger ones were literally running into the theater to claim a spot as if it was a piece of land in the Louisiana Purchase. This land grabbing wasn’t as vicious I suppose but still it was fun to watch. So here I am in this theater full of women, I’m maybe one of four guys in this place and yet I think I was as excited for the film as any of the other ladies. Of course, our reasons couldn’t have been more different. I was there for Soderbergh’s approach to the material and the women for well, yes, tons of male stripping.
The story has been told a dozen times, sometimes better but mostly worse. It’s more or less the story of a young man Adam (Alex Pettyfer) who is completely strapped for cash and is slowly searching for his place in the world. He lives with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn) who is a nurse. She supports him at times but doesn’t hesitate to push him to become something better. He is hired on at a construction site where he is paired with Mike to work on the roofs of new buildings. The partnership only lasts the day as the foreman accuses Adam of stealing and swiftly fires him.
Later that night, Adam is out with Brooke and her boyfriend at dinner, when Adam decides to take a walk. He coincidentally runs into Mike outside of a bar. The two make their way in and begin talking to some young women. Mike tells the women to meet him at a specific club later and they will get the night of their lives. Adam is unsure if he wants to tag along, but Mike has a certain charm to him and is able to convince Adam to go. I mean, he’s magic right? Adam finds out that Mike is a male stripper by night. As soon as Adam gets to the club he finds himself stripping. He ends up with a job doing it nightly earning tons of money and soon enough, tons of trouble.
The club Mike strips at is run by Matthew McConaughey. Every time McConaughey was on screen I made a mental note to do more crunches. There is a running gag among film fans that McConaughey hates wearing shirts and in Magic Mike I honestly don’t remember a scene where he dons one.
The plot of the film really didn’t interest me as much as the aesthetics did. It’s by no means terrible; it just felt pretty routine and at times really lazy. Let’s be real here though. The film was sold on Channing Tatum’s sex appeal and the fact that it’s him stripping for 2 hours, not Soderbergh’s name. The film that is actually present is a complete 180 from what the previews make it out to be.
There are a lot of great ideas in Magic Mike but I don’t feel like they were fully realized. Mike is good at what he does, but knows that he has time against him. He is harshly reminded of this fact by McConaughey late in the film. He actually has a plan with his money that he earns. Of course, a romantic subplot starts between Mike and Brooke but it never really takes off.
What I did like about the film is the way Soderbergh kills any sexual tension that builds throughout the film. It had to be a deliberate choice. Yes, I’m sure women are going to love all the scenes with men stripping, but anything else remotely appealing in terms of sexuality are quickly quelled by Soderbergh. This choice of editing was quickly voiced by women in the audience, which actually made me laugh.
Another thing Soderbergh did that I really liked was his stripped down approach (pun intended, okay that’s the last one) to the filmmaking. Much like his previous effort this year Haywire, he chooses to shoot the film in a completely naturalistic way. I don’t think there was any artificial lighting. Nearly all the lighting came from what you saw on screen.
I also must mention how Soderbergh uses sound in the film. The film’s sound was completely mono the entire time. This combined with the natural lighting makes me feel like Soderbergh is going for a throwback to 70’s filmmaking. The old school Warner Bros. logo kind of reinforces this theory of mine.
One thing last thing must be said. Channing Tatum.The guy is having one hell of a year. Haywire, The Vow, 21 Jump Street and now Magic Mike. Each different from one another, all successful at what they are trying to do. Tatum is picking the right films at the right time in his career. He’s also picking the right filmmakers to work with. A year ago I would’ve laughed in your face if you had told me the guy had a shred of talent, but my feelings about him have changed.
I don’t know if Magic Mike works completely on its storytelling, but from an aesthetic level the film is well done and was enough to keep me interested.