Monday, December 3, 2012
I Watched Magic Mike For the Plot...
Magic Mike (2012) / US / Out on DVD now / Directed by Steven Soderbergh / Written by Reid Carolin / Starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Cody Horn, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer / 110 mins.
Magic Mike is probably the most curiously handled (or mishandled, as I'd put it) movie of the year. I really wish I could have seen this film from the 'other side', and really understand what all of the non-movie-devouring expected from this movie. When it first came out on DVD, the most popular status adorning my Facebook newsfeed was "OMG I can't wait to see Magic Mike!" A little while later, there were statuses scattered around saying "Magic Mike was pretty disappointing." I am actually yet to meet someone face-to-face who has a positive spin on the film. However, I've always known it to be a Steven Soderbergh film, and while he's made plenty of mainstream films, judging by his most recent films like Haywire, The Informant! and The Girlfriend Experience, I couldn't see how Magic Mike would be a really nice comedy about male strippers. So I was actually surprised by how much male stripping there was in this movie. I've heard it said that the marketing for this movie was genius - pushing that male stripper thing out there and making this look like a fun, wild ride through stripper-dom, complete with a trailer yielding a feel-good Rihanna song to make sure every woman on Earth buys a ticket. No doubt, this indie film managed to become a mega-hit, but there's no matter when the people who buy the ticket don't like the film. They didn't get what they expected, but I ended up getting more than I expected. It is curious, isn't it?
I imagine very few people (well, women mostly) watched the film for the plot - but then again, there wasn't all that much of it. Magic Mike follows the titular character (Channing Tatum), an experienced male stripper. He takes young Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing one night and he's thrust (pun not intended) out on the stage for some good old unwearing of clothes for the sake of cash and women screaming. Adam, who is renamed as 'The Kid', seems to do pretty well in this world, and he and Magic Mike become BFFLs. According to the DVD slip things 'turn complicated' when Magic Mike falls for The Kid's sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), but we'll get to why that totally doesn't happen later. There's also a story about how Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who is the head honcho of all the male strippers, is trying to get the troupe to expand their horizons in another city, but that is somewhat jeopardised by The Kid taking this newfound fame too far and Magic Mike being disillusioned by it all.
Honestly, I liked Magic Mike. I liked it because of the majority of the acting. I liked the music. I liked the way it was made, even if the yellow tint that Soderbergh insisted on using was a little bit distracting. The scenes where Magic Mike and his buddies were doing their stuff were good (not just for the obvious reason). The stuff outside that mostly weren't. And here's where the marketing got it wrong: Magic Mike could have been a hell of a lot more fun. Should the film be at fault because it didn't live up to the hype that had been created for it? No. The problem is that it skates between being a fun movie about male strippers, to being a typical broken down and disillusioned hero in an Oscar baiting drama, to not having the goods to pull either of those things off. The result is so middling, because nothing really happens outside of men putting their junk in screaming women's faces. The Kid is saddled with a drug addiction and gets himself in too deep while selling drugs on the side - but thanks to Alex Pettyfer's lack of charisma, that rarely creates tension. However, it is somewhat interesting to see what this career does to him, making him into a cocky (again, pun fully not intended), "I can do anything" type. All of the other male strippers in the troupe - including the talented Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer - never really get the chance to distinguish themselves from the other sweaty, tanned abs on show, and the troupe never really gels (oh my gosh, pun again not intended). Every single plot point in this movie is so malnourished that none of them really take, and barely anything resonates.
One thing that is severely malnourished and underdone is the supposed love story between Magic Mike and Brooke. In fact, it pretty much ruined the entire film for me. It was such a rote story, just there for the sake of it. Perhaps it is there for the sake of Mike maybe redeeming himself and trying to make a change from his womanising ways. But the woman who manages to change his ways should be at least a little bit interesting, and thanks to Cody Horn, she isn't. Horn doesn't have any zest, any personality, or any interest in the material at hand. All she can summon up the courage to do is look bored. And when the film comes to an end and she becomes the key to Mike's new life, the film comes to a dissatisfying close - which might be why so many people were disappointed in it. Maybe if Horn's character had been better written or if she'd been recast all together.
However, Magic Mike's partial success comes down to Soderbergh's style and the casting of Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. The film is apparently based on Tatum's early experiences as a stripper, and he has the moves to prove it. Here he also proves that he's no longer a pretty boy out to set every teenage girl's hearts aflutter - he's a damn good actor who fills the movie with spirit, energy and charisma. Plus, he really does make his character's sub-plot of him trying to make his own furniture business work. His desire to do that is kind of heart-breaking. However, it is Matthew McConaughey who once again steals the show as Dallas. It is a role pretty much tailor-made for him, and sometimes he even manages to be kind of scary with his schemes and plans, along with the way he initiates The Kid. Since a nomination for Killer Joe seems unlikely, I'll be campaigning for McConaughey until the very end. No-one goes through a career transformation like this and not get recognised for it.
At the end of the day, Magic Mike is a rather vague, shallow film, but I can't say that I didn't enjoy myself while watching it. It could have been handled a hell of a lot differently, even if there's little more to it than being just a plain male stripper movie.
What I got: