Film Review: Magic Mike

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Be wary of what the ads tell you: Magic Mike may be “the male stripper” movie, but that’s certainly not what you’re getting when you slap down those singles in the ticket line.

Let’s bitch it out…Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat. Magic Mike is both exactly what you expect and not at all what you thought it’d be…at exactly the same time. If you’ve watched the trailers (featuring more beef than a Wendy’s commercial), you may think you’re getting two hours of men in fun costumes gyrating to pulsing music. Obviously this is not what you get since it’s a film and not a porno (and directed by Steven Soderbergh, who generally doesn’t make porn, but rather art films…that sometimes double as porn). The people who have cut the trailers for the film have done it a great disservice, which is why you can look forward to watching its box office numbers free fall after it’s $40 million + opening weekend. People have been sold a raw (though for some not raw enough) deal – so look for the Coyote Ugly effect to kick in pretty much any time now.

Bypassing that porny question and you’ll find that Magic Mike delivers pretty much exactly what you expect: a depressing look at a somewhat underground subculture (in this case the male rippers). We’ve got a main character – Channing Tatum’s Mike – who’s lost his way, but only realizes it when he brings in a new “star”, Adam AKA ‘The Kid’ (played by pyromaniac girlfriend abuser Alex Pettyfer). Naturally The Kid gets involved in too much bad sh*t too fast and things get dark…or as dark as they can get for a film that wants to tread lightly.

And therein lies the problem. Not only is Magic Mike the most obvious of films (you’ve seen this narrative a dozen times, so much so that you’ll have figure out everyone’s trajectory within the first five minutes), but there’s nothing inherently interesting on display. Tatum is a bit of cypher – you kinda like him or think he’s bland (or double bonus points: you think he’s both!), Pettyfer needs a bath and Matthew McConaughey plays Xquisite club owner, Dallas, like he’s riffing on his bongo playing persona as crossed with a greasy Tampa lowlife. I’d say McConaughey does well with the part (loads of other critics have), but he’s barely on screen, which applies to virtually everyone* who isn’t named Tatum, Pettyfer or Cody Horn (she plays Pettyfer’s concerned sister, Brooke).

*So if you’re considering seeing the film because you like Joe Manganiello from True Blood or Matt Bomer from White Collar (I’m looking at you, TVAngie), then don’t bother because they have about a combined total of ten lines. Plus screencaps of their jiggly bits are likely already available online (ex: Mangianello performing a provocative move / Matt Bomer’s butt).

Courtesy of Lionsgate

The most interesting aspect of the film is the story that the film wants to tell, but is too busy cutting back to the stripping scenes, or being “real” by showing Adam OD. No, the interesting story that the film isn’t telling is how Mike has found himself in his current economic position at 30. Dallas represents his future (someone Mike tells Brooke he doesn’t want to be): the 40 year old male stripper. At the other end of the spectrum is The Kid, who at 19, is what he used to be, namely a punk who’s infatuated by the lifestyle because it’s got money, girls and fun. There’s a lot of inference about what the future will bring to Mike, Dallas and the strippers since the club is about to move to Miami and the equity that Dallas promises Mike continues to shrink (even as he begins to offer some to Adam).

The issue is that these questions about growing up and becoming a responsible (economically sound) adult and moving away from the wrong types of people are on one hand completely obvious (some of it is literally spelled out by characters) while other parts are completely obscure. The suggestion that Dallas is far less trustworthy than he appears and that the move to Miami will be a disastrous  case of small fish in a big pond is suggested, but only if you look for it. The result is a film that’s asking interesting questions and for the most part is well acted, but is exceedingly boring and obvious to watch.

So if you’re looking for skin, or an original take on the “stripper with a heart of gold’, I wouldn’t recommend Magic Mike. Essentially it’s Boogie Nights on a far less ambitious scale.

Other Observations:

  • Another issue I have is the exceedingly dull/flat direction by Soderbergh. I’m not incredibly well versed in his work, but the majority of the time the camera functions solely to record. It’s very ‘documentary’; a non-spectacle which is (interestingly enough) most obvious in the way the strip scenes are filmed. One of the best things about these scenes is that despite the choreography and costuming, this remains a small club that houses a five to six man strip team. These numbers are appropriately bland, straddling the line between cheese and mundane reality. Ladies (and gays) be warned, however: these scenes are not exceedingly hot
  • One instance when the direction is more stylized is when Adam and Mike take drugs and party. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before in drug films, but there’s an appropriate amount of colour filtration and unusual angles to suggest both dissociation from reality, as well as a nauseous loss of control
  • I was torn between liking and hating Horn’s acting. Brooke is easily the most put-together / smartest character in the film, but Horn’s facial expressions frequently make Brooke look like a judgmental, frowny bitch. This works sometimes – like when she’s supposed to be be a judgmental, frowny bitch, but not so much when she’s meant to be intrigued (maybe even a little turned on) by Mike’s routine at the club. It’s definitely a polarizing performance
  • I need some perspective from the ladies: do you want guys to shimmy their crotches all over your face and lady-parts? Even if those crotches are attached to those bodies, wouldn’t you rather have the lap dance than full-on simulated sex & grinding? I’ll admit that society frequently downplays the sexual appetite of women (who clearly have active libidos considering this film skewed 73% female), so am I hilariously naive?
  • In my own defense, the previous comment is partially in response to The Kid’s inaugural dance. In my professional opinion as a blogger, Pettyfer looks pretty gross throughout the majority of the film. When he’s dry-humping the birthday girl, I couldn’t help but think that he likely hasn’t showered in quite some time. The fact that she goes down on him later filled me with disgust. Ladies, don’t be afraid to tell the douchebag strippers you pick up to wash themselves down there before the party starts, mmmkay?
  • Finally, would I recommend this film to the straight boys? Entertainment Weekly does, although comparing it to Scarface is laughable. There’s nothing gritty about Magic Mike, or at least nothing grittier than your average Lifetime movie about drug addiction and the perils of bad behaviour.  So yes, I imagine the straights might have some discomfort with the amount of thonged behinds on screen, but to be honest this isn’t a stripper movie in the vein of Showgirls or Striptease. It is above all else simply a conventional drama…

What did you think, readers? Did you have a different take on the film or were you as bored with the “been there, done that” narrative as I was? Were you disappointed that none of the supporting cast was given anything to do? And has your appetite for men in thongs been satiated? Sound off below

Magic Mike is now in theatres

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

One thought on “Film Review: Magic Mike

  1. God I’m so depressed that I’ve actually spent time thinking about “Magic Mike” (and not in a sexy way), but I’ve been drinking so there.

    1. I LOVE Channing Tatum. Weird lips and all. They’re just so…moist (shudder…but still…go Jenna Dewan!). Coming up as a club kid in the late 1990s has endeared me to “My Pony” and Jeeeeeesus. That was. The scene. Actually, I could have watched him dance for the whole movie. Or forever. *googles “Channing Tatum Dancing”*. Anyway. Ahem.

    2. I can’t help myself either with my Alex Pettyfer crush. God he’s gross, gross, and grosser in the movie (and in real life, I hear he’s awful), but I liked the friendship between Mike and Adam throughout most of the movie. I also loved the chemistry between the newly-minted 21 year-old and The Kid in the club, pre-strip. If I had been wearing pearls during the lapdance makeout, I would have clutched them. The BJ? Well, it’s semi-autobiographical on Tatum’s stripping experience, so…*shrug*. However, the eyebrow raising moment: on your 21st birthday, would you be the one performing oral sex? Erm, not unless I knew reciprocity was imminent. It gives one pause.

    3. This is a movie that has been mass-marketed. That’s cool. But with movies billed as such, I want catharsis. There was absolutely no catharsis. It was just…FIN. Sure, Brooke (BTW, had to go to IMDB to remember her name, that’s how shit that character was) was hinting about…something? She was so prudish and one-dimensional that I don’t even know what she wanted to do with those seven hours. Play Backgammon? Othello? Rock Band? Because obviously Chess is too sexually charged. Ugh. UGH!

    We didn’t even get a proper Channing Tatum sex scene. You can’t go all vague on us in a movie like MAGIC FUCKING MIKE. Especially after the “My Pony” and the…was he in bomb squad drag? At any rate, that was hot, too.

    Anyway, I agree with a lot of your analysis. No, I do not like crotches in my face, unless I specifically request said crotch. HATE neon thongs, no matter whose dong is in them. Honestly, I think that the male stripper industry would do well to embrace boxer briefs.

    However, despite the end of the movie, I would rate Magic Mike a good 78%. Certainly not a DVD I must own, but I think I’m going to “inadvertently” make my husband watch a few scenes.

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