There can be really good movies about seedy subjects. Several years ago, Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights looked at the porn industry and we viewers were treated to a fascinating look at a group of loners who formed a quasi-family that just happened to be in the business of making adult films. So when Magic Mike opened last summer to good reviews, I was optimistic that the film might have something to say.
I was wrong about that. The plot of Magic Mike could have been lifted from Beverly Hills 90210 and placed in the world of male strippers. Alex Pettyfer plays Adam, a 19-year old with a history of trashing his life. He has moved to Tampa to crash on his sister Brooke's couch while he looks for a job that he can tolerate. Adam meets Mike, a would-be entrepreneur who also happens to be the star attraction at a male strip club owned by the charismatic businessman Dallas. Mike gets Adam to help him rope in customers for the strip show, then brings him to Dallas's club. Dallas sees some raw talent in Adam and trains him to strip. Mike becomes interested in Brooke, who doesn't see stripping as a viable life choice, particularly when Adam begins to be seduced by the sex and drugs that are around.
If the acting had been better, or the script more intelligent, or some of the director's choices better, I could have overlooked the simplistic plot. Pettyfer has no screen presence, which is bad for a movie that riffs on A Star is Born. Cody Horn looks nice but shows no particular talent in her thankless role of Brooke. Matthew McConaughey received a lot of acclaim -- and a handful of critic's awards -- for his role as Dallas. He had some good scenes, but I thought the character seemed like McConaughey was spoofing himself. There is a scene near the end of the movie though where Dallas's true colors come through and he appears old and mean like a decaying pretty boy. I have to hand it to him -- he deglamorized himself powerfully there. (Good thing the rest of his scenes played up his status as a sex symbol!).
Magic Mike is supposedly loosely based on the short-lived exotic dancing career of Channing Tatum, who plays Mike. Tatum gives the best performance in the film, though the role is so poorly written that I was never sure until the movie was almost over if Mike was a good character or if he had some ulterior motive. It turns out that Mike was just growing up and the lure of exotic dancing was beginning to pale. Mike wanted to make something better out of his life. As a 30-year old dancer, Mike is a little old for a coming-of-age story, but that is essentially all that Magic Mike is.
Steven Soderbergh directed this puerile film and loaded it with lots of prurient elements. Generally, Soderbergh's films are meatier than this (no pun intended!). For some unfathomable reason, Soderbergh chose to bathe his film with a yellow-tinted lens which cast the whole film in a sickly-looking glow and made the skin tones look mostly orange. The film seems quickly cobbled together to me, which may have something to do with Soderbergh trying to retire from directing by January 2013. The movie would have also been better if the other strippers were given any sort of individual personalities. One of them is Adam Rodriguez from TV's CSI: Miami, but he isn't given much to do.
I guess I expected more from Soderbergh than I got in Magic Mike, but I'm not sure what I expected out of a movie about male strippers. I do hope that Soderbergh's retirement is short-lived though, because most of his films are a lot better than this mess. Grade: B-.
I watched Magic Mike on DVD on February 6, 2013.