Friday, June 29, 2012

REVIEW: Magic Mike

Sometimes you can tell a lot about what a crowd thinks of a movie by how they don't react. Such is the case with Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike.

I saw the film at a screening where the gender ratio in the audience must have been at least seven girls for every boy. (Eat your heart out, Jan and Dean). Not at all surprising, considering this was a movie about male strippers. And sure enough, when the movie started, the vibe in the theater became less movie and more rock concert. Girls hooted and hollered with wild abandon as Matthew McConaughey strutted his stuff. I didn't turn to look and see if anyone was holding up dollar bills, but I wouldn't have been surprised.

But then I noticed something. As the movie went on, the girls got quieter. Oh sure, they cheered again when it was time to peel off fabric, but the cheering became less boisterous as the movie went on. I like to think that was because the ladies were getting into the story. Or maybe they were bored. In any event, the hook of this movie is supposedly that it turns an old cliche on its head - let's see the guys exploited for a change. But it is worth noting that Magic Mike was written and directed by men. So whom exactly is the joke on?

This movie felt rather like a low-key version of Boogie Nights, only with fewer characters and without Paul Thomas Anderson's visual acrobatics. Both films are about the seamy side of a prurient industry, which turns out to be not as sexy as advertised. Soderbergh directs most of the movie in the fly-on-the-wall style of his experimental movies like Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience, with bits of the Oceans movies thrown in during the stripping. One of Soderbergh's cheekier jokes is that the one glimpse we get of the male anatomy is decidedly non-sexual.

The story is so low key it's a bit too slow to take off at first, but once it does, it's compelling. Reid Carolin's screenplay takes showbiz movie tropes (brash new guy upends old pro) and gives them a gritty, lived-in feeling.

What truly puts the movie across, however, are the performances. Alex Pettyfer is solid as the reckless new pro, and Channing Tatum again proves there's more to him than beefcake. This isn't even the first time the actor played role reversal - he got his butt kicked by a girl earlier this year in Haywire, also directed by Soderbergh. The actor is nothing if not a trooper. And there are some nice female turns as well, from Olivia Munn as one of Tatum's recurring flings, and especially from the appealing Cody Horn, who plays the new guy's more sensible sister.

And then there's McConaughey as the cocky MC of the male revue. The actor has made himself the butt of many a joke for being a little too slick and casual, but his star power here is undeniable. He owns the camera and anyone he looks at, male or female. For contrast, check out his very different performance in Richard Linklater's docu-comedy Bernie. The man has range, and I'd actually argue his Magic Mike performance is Oscar-worthy. Seriously.

Females expecting nothing more than Showboys might be put off, but there's a real movie underneath all those rippling pectorals. And it's a very good one.




No comments: