Back in the day, I used to work at a strip club. No, not a male dance revue like the one at the center of MAGIC MIKE, but I served as a DJ as your fantasy girls took to the stage and took their tops off. Believe me… it was all the AC/DC, Kiss, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, etc., that I could handle on a regular basis, and, while I was always told by my friends how cool my job must be, it couldn’t have been anywhere near what they imagined it to be. I had to hear the same music day after day after day. I had to deal with the egos of divas who were nowhere near as important as they were in their own minds. I had to see them in fluorescent light (let’s just say there’s a reason clubs make it look dark and smoky up on the stage… so you don’t have to see everything I saw of their ladies in their more natural states), and, worst of all, I had to talk to them. Don’t get me wrong… some of them were perfectly nice girls, just doing the best with what they had in order to make some decent and fairly easy money taking their clothes. Then there were the other ones… the ones who were desperate to get pregnant by their men, so they wouldn’t run off with someone else, the ones who probably would have sucked my dick in the booth if I could have scored them some cocaine, the ones with severe daddy issues. Let’s face it… these were future MAURY guests in the making, before the results were ever in on those paternity tests. But it wasn’t a bad overall experience. I got to meet some interesting people. I got paid remarkably well, and it happened at a time in my life when working at a strip club still seemed kind of cool. But, behind the scenes, it wasn’t all the fun and games and awesomeness you might think it is in front of the stage.
And that’s really what MAGIC MIKE deals with. On the surface, it may be presented as a dirtier mix of COYOTE UGLY and SHOWGIRLS for the female audience, but deep down MAGIC MIKE is a dark exploration of what happens backstage in the male strip club industry, more BOOGIE NIGHTS than STRIPTEASE, seedy as opposed to glamorous. Steven Soderbergh has put together a pretty solid film about a stripper with the stage name Magic Mike (Channing Tatum), using his good looks, hard body, dance moves and street sense as a means to an end. He knows stripping isn’t a long-term option… but what it does allow him to do is save up, invest in small businesses, try to grow something for his future that involves following his dream of making custom furniture as a living that doesn’t involve wearing a man-thong or assless chaps. Is there plenty of booze to be drunk along the way? Absolutely. Are there drugs to be consumed? Sure. Women throwing themselves at you? Threesomes galore? Most definitely, but, while partaking in a few of the festivities, it is Mike’s goal to make stripping work for him without getting sucked into the lifestyle that can really destroy those that get in too far.
The prime example of that is Adam, otherwise known as The Kid (played by Alex Pettyfer). Here’s an under-21 guy taken under Mike’s wing, who goes from good-for-nothing bum (he won’t go in for job interviews if they require him to wear a tie) to stripping star on the rise, all because he’s given a shot. However, he quickly becomes the cautionary tale of what not to do when you’re given a little freedom against your immaturity. He may be invincible in front of the rabid crowd that turns out for Xquisite Male Revue regularly, but that doesn’t exactly translate to real life where actions have consequences when you fuck up.
Pettyfer isn’t really all that interesting to watch, because, while MAGIC MIKE does trend a lot darker than some may be expecting from a movie with dudes in banana hammocks, it never fully commits to showing the awful side of this business. Pettyfer’s Kid comes across as a troubled cliché, because the rest of the cast remain largely untouched or unfazed by the hazards and dangers that present themselves constantly. There are no pitfalls to Mike or his on-stage brethren Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) or Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello). Even their boss and the club’s owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) seems to be doing quite well for himself with prospects of expanding his stripping empire from Tampa to a bigger market in Miami.
As a result, MAGIC MIKE seems to hold back far too much in how dark it is willing to go. When there’s one immature dumb-ass who’s been fucking up his life since the word go, it’s far less interesting than if all the characters carry deep flaws within. He’s the exception to the rule who falls more in line with “Well, that figures,” when you continue seeing him steer into trouble. Bomer and Manganiello are grossly underused, as it’s only their physiques used at all for the film, filling out the dancing troupe with their toned arms and ripped arms to please those who’ve come to see MAGIC MIKE solely for the eye candy. They easily could have fed into this side of stripping that people assume exists but don’t really know exists, only Soderbergh chooses not to take MAGIC MIKE in that direction, juxtaposing Pettyfer with Tatum’s more clean-cut good guy.
Tatum is the more intriguing of the two characters, which is surprising, because the role doesn’t carry as much juice. He’s not skipping out on deals with drug dealers, and he’s not at risk to OD, because his poor choices are few and far between. In fact, the only negative he seems to be facing is his poor credit score, because he works more than one job, he takes care of his newly acquired friend for no other reason than he’s a good guy, and he has drive and ambition to do something more with his life. Magic Mike is a boy scout outside of the club, yet what elevates him from bland to engaging is Tatum, whose charm and affability help form a character you can’t help but like watching… and that’s not even addressing his stage act. He’s a hero of sorts, always trying to do the right thing in a world where that’s not always possible, but somehow he manages to walk that line without rendering himself as uninteresting.
The only area where Tatum is brought down is in this pseudo-romance with The Kid’s sister Paige, played by Cody Horn. There is no clicking at all going on between Tatum and this emotionless actress who seems to yell all of her lines at the same volume whether she’s telling you she doesn’t like breakfast or she’s worried something is going to happen to her brother. There’s actually more of a spark between Magic Mike and the girl he fucks on the side (Olivia Munn), further shining a light on how lacking this aspect of the film is.
McConaughey also brings his best to a character with no designs on friendship, just making money. His interactions with Tatum slide from friendly and respectable to confrontational, as the true nature of their relationship and the positions each holds within them become clearer, but whether it’s speaking the lay of the land to his employees or to his club patrons, McConaughey is in his element with the many facets of Dallas in a small but quite important role.
More than being “the male stripper movie,” this is a Steven Soderbergh film. Long riveting including probably the best shot of a movie, which is just a long close-up reaction of Horn’s introduction to Mike’s club routine, make up large chunks of the movie, and there is an overall detached feel to the material. However, Tatum warms the film up with his increasingly improved screen presence, and is the driving force behind why MAGIC MIKE, in the end, does work.
I do think there was a better film to be made here, but, with what Tatum and Soderbergh chose to work with, it still winds up good. There’s more to MAGIC MIKE than dudes shaking their junk in women’s faces. This is a fascinating look at what does indeed go on inside the walls of a women’s strip club, and, just like Magic Mike’s career choice, the stage performances are really a way to get from point A to point B, but, as a guy, you shouldn’t be afraid to see a flick simply because it has men’s bare asses in it… because you’re only going to miss out due to your closed-mindedness. If you’re a woman, there’s enough flesh to keep you satisfied, but it’s really when MAGIC MIKE shifts from dancing to story that it gets good.
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