Thursday, July 5, 2012

Men on Film: Magical or Magic-less?

I don't know how a movie about strippers can manage to be simultaneously leering and coy, but such is the case with Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike. The surprise hit has been drawing hordes of screaming women and, to my observation, quieter but not necessarily less enthusiastic groups of gay men since it opened last Friday. While unique as a movie-going experience (at least during opening weekend) the film is strictly standard issue despite its exotic setting and Oscar-winning director.

The suddenly omnipresent Channing Tatum stars (and inspired the plot) as the title character, who performs at a female-oriented Miami nightclub as part of a troupe of male stripper-dancers. He takes an aimless 19-year old (Alex Pettyfer, the alien teen in I Am Number Four) under his wing and they soon become, at the younger’s stated insistence, best friends. But Magic Mike isn’t able to protect his charge from the temptations of drugs, greed, indiscriminate sex and disloyalty that are, if this film is to be believed, part-and-parcel with the stripping vocation.

Matthew McConaughey gives the film’s best performance as the club’s charismatic yet occasionally sinister owner. He’s something of a buffer, tanner version of Joel Grey’s emcee in Cabaret. Rounding out the troupe are familiar faces Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (the out star of White Collar), Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez. Sadly, though, Reid Carolin’s by-the-numbers screenplay doesn’t allow for much to be revealed of these supporting characters other than their bare chests and butts. Meanwhile, actress Cody Horn is less than impressive as Mike’s romantic interest, sporting exactly one facial expression throughout the film except when she laughs while taking a sandbar stroll.

I’m no connoisseur of male strip shows, although I have been known to stuff a few dollars (neatly folded, never crumpled) into a few g-strings in my time. To its credit, Magic Mike captures well the stylish yet seedy veneer of many such clubs. The strip/dance numbers are also well-staged and –photographed. Strangely, though, the movie tends to obscure or cut quickly away from the mens’ full-frontal yet thong-clad moments. There is stage humping and lap dancing galore but we rarely get even a veiled hint of the actors’ natural endowments. While incidental, such coyness in this heavily-trumpeted celebration of man-flesh struck me as odd and maybe even hypocritical. There also isn't a single gay character in the film but it does feature a bisexual female character.

More than a few reputable fellow critics have bestowed laurels upon Magic Mike, largely thanks to Soderbergh’s reputation. While Mr. S. does fine work with what he’s given, it ultimately amounts to little of substance. You may be able to pad a stripper’s pouch but not this film’s barely mediocre script.

Reverend's Rating: C-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Channing Tatum really comes into his own in Magic Mike, which is fitting since the film was inspired by his own experiences as a stripper in Florida. Director Steven Soderbergh, best known for Erin Brockovich and last year’s disappointing Contagion, brings some cinematic class and depth to the story of a group of rowdy strippers in Tampa, Florida.

Led by Matthew McConaughey in a gonzo performance as club owner Dallas, Magic Mike is as sexy and fun as you could hope for, at least in the first half. There are plenty of hilarious and raunchy strip numbers where the gorgeous cast really gets to show off their stuff. The latter half of the movie feels more like a hangover after a drunken bachelorette party, but that is in keeping with the film’s segue into the darker side of the dirty dancing business.

In addition to Tatum, who plays Mike, a stud with his eye on more than working construction, detailing cars and, most lucratively, baring it all at Club Xquisite, the cast includes True Blood’s tall, dark and studly Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie, the Fireman. We don’t get to see nearly enough of his well-endowed character off stage, but you do get to see evidence onstage of where he got his name. Manganiello deserves more screen time, as do his fellow dance studs. Newly out hunk Matt Bomer plays Ken, a stud with a wife who likes to swing with his fellow dancers and is very into the partying lifestyle. (Look for Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough in Bomer’s big scene; she’s the one with the piglet!) Also, Ugly Betty’s Latin lover Adam Rodriguez co-stars as Tito, who doesn’t figure into the story very much but does add a lot of nice eye candy during the dance routines.

At 6’10” and fifty-two years old, Tarzan (WWE wrestler Kevin Nash, a.k.a. Big Sexy) is the biggest and oldest of the guys, but he’s made of pure muscle. He’s definitely the homeliest dancer in the bunch. Overdoing it with a drug cocktail supplied by the club’s DJ, he leaves an opening in the act for Alex Pettyfer’s character nicknamed The Kid. Pettyfer’s Adam meets Tatum’s Mike at a construction site where Adam manages to get fired the first day. Mike gives him a lift home, where he meets Adam’s over-protective sister Brooke, played by Cody Horn, the daughter of Walt Disney Chairman Alan F. Horn. This becomes notable when Horn’s deadpan acting leaves you wondering why she was cast.

Mike makes Adam the slacker into a stripper star, and like Margo Channing in All About Eve and Cristal Connors in Showgirls, the older star watches as his protégé becomes more and more enamored with the lifestyle as Mike becomes more serious and disillusioned.

Tatum is unbelievably cute in Magic Mike, even making a scene with a loan officer sexy. His charisma actually brings his costar Horn to life, which is a miracle. The blonde Hilary Swank look-alike’s performance is so dry, she makes Kristen Stewart and Chloe Sevigny look like Meryl Streep in comparison. Mike’s infatuation with such an uptight drip is the film’s biggest flaw. Pettyfer, who looks like Ashton Kutcher in this film, plays Adam with a mysterious blankness, but the scene where he blithely dismisses a huge gesture of friendship by Mike plays so false and hollow, it’s phonier than the scene is intended.

Of course, Magic Mike is all about the stripping, and on that count, it doesn’t disappoint. The group numbers and Tatum’s gymnastic solo dance routines will make you want to pitch dollars at the screen. Until, that is,  the film turns serious and Adam starts messing around with the sleazier side of the business, including a tryst with Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough.

Magic Mike is hilarious and light-hearted entertainment. It may also be the only Hollywood film where a penis pump is shown in use. Although the story of a guy who begins to question his fun-loving, fast-partying life was old when John Travolta did it in Saturday Night Fever, Tatum and director Soderbergh make Magic Mike a surprisingly moving peep show.

Reel Thoughts Rating: B

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

1 comment:

Douglas Peter Nicholas said...

Thank you for the sensitive, insightfull, and comprehensive review of Magic Mike, Neil. Keep up the good work.