Saturday, July 7, 2012

Magic Mike

4/4

Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Matt Bomer, Gabriel Iglesias, Adam Rodriguez

Rated R for Pervasive Sexual Content, Brief Graphic Nudity, Language and Some Drug Use

What really impressed me about "Magic Mike" is its authenticity.  Almost everything that happens in this movie rings true, from how the characters act to the situations that they find themselves in.  There's not much in this film that is surprising, but it's written and directed in a way that makes it come alive.

Much of the reason for the film's success is due to Channing Tatum.  A former model who got into acting because he wanted a bigger challenge, Tatum has never particularly impressed me with his acting abilities.  That all changed with "21 Jump Street."  His performance as Jenko was very good, and he demonstrated his ability to get a laugh.  As the title character, Magic Mike, Tatum gives a performance of near brilliance.  He probably won't get an Oscar nomination, but he should.

Magic Mike (Tatum) is the biggest star at a strip club in Tampa Bay, Florida.  He's good looking, charismatic and knows how to have a good time.  More importantly, he knows how to get his customers to have a good time.  Mike is the kind of guy who can draw people's attention just be walking into the room.  He's also a busy man; he does construction work on the side and makes custom furniture that he wants to sell once he gets enough money to do that full time.  At his construction job, he meets Adam (Pettyfer), a good looking kid.  They run into each other outside the strip club where Mike works at and he gets Adam a job working props.  In no short order, Adam has become Mike's protoge, and they're living the great life.  Parties, money and women...all in copious quantities.  And that's when things go south.

Watching "Magic Mike" is like going out to a nightclub with your best friends.  The excitement of going out and getting wild is infectious.  We feel it with the characters, and Mike knows how to capitalize on that with potential customers.  Initially it seems like the best job in the world.  But then darker side of things come to light.  Drugs and the inability to lead a normal life erode the fantasy.  In this way, it bears some similarity to "Memoirs of a Geisha."  Both deal with the price of being another's fantasy, although this film is grittier and more explicit.

Apart from Tatum's tightly controlled and charismatic performance, the acting is solid across the board.  Matthew McConaughey is also very good (an Oscar nomination might be warranted for him as well).  Dallas is the P.T. Barnum of the film; the audience wants a show, and he obliges.  He's a good showman and gets his audience pumped up for the eye candy they're about to see.  Alex Pettyfer, who was reasonably good in the box office flop "I am Number Four," is good, but he has moments when he is stiff.  When he's active and energetic, he's good, but when he's lower key and awkward, he's lacking.  Also impressive is rising starlet Cody Horn, who plays Adam's motherly sister Brooke and Mike's potential love interest.  She's worried about Adam, and wants Mike to look after him.  He obliges, but there are times when "The Kid," as Adam is called, escapes from Mike's watchful eye.

I also liked how Steven Sodebergh doesn't present watching male strippers as something dirty or obscene.  The audience is having fun and so are we.  Behind the scenes it's a dirty business (at least in this movie), but on stage it's great entertainment.  There's not as much nudity as one might suppose (only a few shots of Tatum's butt and a two heavily obscured penises).  It's also quite funny at times (the scene where Dallas teaches Adam how to dance suggestively is a case in point.  It's hilarious because of how McConaughey takes it).

I expect this movie to play huge with women and gay men.  With this material, that's a given.  But it's far from a porno and contains stuff that will entertain everyone.  I imagine that some people will be turned off by the subject matter.  Don't be.  It's not at all what you'd think.

The film is far from flawless, Pettyfer's stiff moments aside.  The film has some suspect editing and the relationship between Mike and Brooke is less explored than I would have liked, but I'll leave that for the inevitable unrated DVD.  As it is though, it's still one of the best films of the year so far and guaranteed to end up on my top 10 list when December comes around.

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