Before we even get into a review of Magic Mike, let me just go ahead and confirm for all the Curious Georges out there that, at least at the showing I went to with my wife, there was a guy sitting outside the theater to confiscate my man card before I went in. He was hanging out in a lawn chair with a bunch of PBR empties scattered around him, wearing a Led Zeppelin 1975 Tour t shirt and doing that thing where a guy runs his open palm slowly back and forth over the flame of a lighter. “Enjoy the show,” he sneered as I handed him my laminated man membership ID. Then after we sat down, my wife stepped out of the theater for a minute before the show started. Sitting there by myself, I could feel the testosterone evaporating into thin air as groups of women arrived for the show with giant grins on their faces. Some were even a little dressed up. I really thought for a moment that a Pampered Chef party or, better yet, a lingerie/”adult sexual aid” party might break out. Anyway, on with the show.
In all seriousness, I was genuinely surprised that I was one of only two or three guys at our showing. There were a good 40-50 people at our show and they were all ladies, most of them relatively young. I get why they were there, of course, but I thought there might be a few more guys like myself who’d be genuinely interested in what sort of fun Steven Soderbergh would have with this material. The answer, particularly in the first half to two thirds of the movie, is an awful lot of fun. The choreographing of dance scene after dance scene, and just the sheer energy and fun all the guys brought to the show, you couldn’t help get caught up and ride (so to speak) with it. There’s really no way I can say enough about how much fun Matthew McConaughey was as the macho, preening mother hen and boss of the show to all the strippers in the club. Wardrobe choices alone for McConaughey’s character are worth the price of admission, but throw in an over the top, I’ll say and do anything to sell the life this character is leading performance, and this is absolutely, with no hyperbole Best Supporting Actor material. Really, this cock of the walk, no pretense, he’s loving every minute of it performance is right up there with Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia, but without the dark side. There are so many great scenes from McConaughey in Magic Mike, but his character Dallas in a dance studio teaching an up and comer (again, no pun intended) how to tease and work the crowd, complete with hands on instruction, is entertainment at its best. I’ll also be looking for the terry cloth robe McConaughey sports in the middle of the dance club to wear around the house, not to mention the fact that I’m already constantly going up to my wife and saying, “Alright, alright, alright” in my best Texas drawl.
So, yeah, pony up the cash just to see McConaughey. But, again, for at least the first half of the movie, the whole thing is just boatloads of fun. Channing Tatum is really good as the title character, bringing the perfect balance of confidence, fun and roll with it looseness as the heart of the stripping troupe, which includes a nicely balanced cast of guys. The dance sequences were really, really well done and laid out. Tatum, in particular, was sporting some serious game in the dancing department. There was plenty of obvious eye candy for the ladies, but even as a guy you couldn’t help but smile and nod at it all. It’s when the guys are able to just wink at the crowd and really let loose, which is most of the first half of things, that everything really, really cooks and works in this movie. A small slice of genius is placing all of it in Tampa, Florida, which seems like the perfect place for a bunch of slightly white trash-y guys to be partying it up and living the male stripper life.
Things come off the rails just a little bit in the last third of the movie. Naturally, to carry off a story there has to be a little more than just filmed strip routines. And the story is about Tatum as Magic Mike working toward a way to leave stripping, while simultaneously helping out a young protégé and slowly falling for the protégé’s sister. While all the while, McConaughey, the owner of the stripping troupe, promises Mike the moon. There are, as there always are (and necessarily so for story) things that go wrong in the second half of the movie. But these things are handled so sloppily, and the editing of the transitions from fun to seriousness is so clumsy, that it really throws off the pacing of things in the latter sections of things. Soderbergh is kind of known for doing big, intricately developed and paced films and then smaller, tighter ones. Magic Mike has a little bit of an odd feeling of falling somewhere in the middle of that continuum. This is certainly not one of Soderbergh’s sprawling movies and, because of that, it pales quite a bit in the inevitable comparison to a movie like Boogie Nights. I’ll put it as simply as I can. Magic Mike is not in the same class as Boogie Nights. Understanding that it really isn’t meant to be Boogie Nights, I think, in the end, Magic Mike probably would have worked better without trying to overdo some of the more drama heavy plot turns. There’s not really anything horribly wrong with keeping a picture that has such great vibes and pure fun about it for most of the movie light all the way through. There’s just a weird energy change about the film in sections near the end that holds this one back from being really great.
A couple of things that were kind of odd about the movie. The first one I’m taking on advisement. And that is that while there were shots of female breasts, you end up watching a movie about male strippers without having any real full monty shots of the guys. I asked my wife about this and whether it was something that should be brought up and she did not hesitate before saying yes. Again, it just seemed weird. A movie with this kind of action, but no payoff. In fact, we both agreed that while it was a ton of fun in spots, it really wasn’t a particularly sexy movie. I got the impression that the ladies weren’t having any trouble looking at the guys, for sure, but it was definitely missing some heat.
The other slightly off thing was the lack of use of a couple of relatively high profile actors. The biggest one (third no pun intended) was Joe Mangiello from True Blood. I guess when you’re playing a character named Big Dick Richie, it’s not necessarily your elocution that you’re being looked at for, but Mangiello got a couple of lines at most. Just a little odd.
Sitting through the first half of Magic Mike, I really found myself thinking this was the best movie I had seen this year. That’s not necessarily saying a ton because, while I’ve seen a nice chunk of good movies so far, I haven’t seen a truly great one yet. Still, it was promising. But I just couldn’t buy it overall. There was just too much sloppiness and shoddiness story wise in the end of the movie to give it a full pass. Recommended for everything Channing Tatum and even more everything Matthew McConaughey, up to and including McConaughey’s character’s clothes and the art work adorning his home. Recommended for the fun dance scenes, funny enough for a guy to enjoy in a laughing way and eye candy enough that I caught my wife adjusting in her seat a couple of times. So, good summer fun but not rising to that higher level that I think some are touting it for.
I will say I can’t wait for Magic Mike 2: Moon Over Miami, where Mike leaves his not so successful custom furniture business to bring his protégé Alex back from the abyss after Alex succumbs to drugs and an overly hedonistic lifestyle after the strippers make the move with Dallas to Miami. Dallas uses Alex and drives him over the edge and Mike, remembering that Dallas did similar things to him, comes out of stripper retirement to save his woman’s brother and gain a measure of revenge on Dallas by starting his own rival stripper troupe. It’s tough sledding for Mike and Alex but through sheer will and balls (literally), they climb the strip club ladder until they eventually have one final chance to bring down Dallas and his guys in a climactic (are you getting all this pun gold) showdown dance off. I’ll be faxing a treatment to Soderbergh shortly, and you should be looking for this sequel in theaters by Christmas 2014.