Movie Review - Magic Mike

Alex Pettyfer (left) and Matthew
McConaughey (right) in "Magic Mike"
Matthew McConaughey plays Dallas, the owner and host of a strip club for women. Dallas is a stripper too. He gets on stage and warms up the ladies for what's technically referred to as a male dance revue. It's not The Full Monty (1997). You see a lot of pectorals, a lot of abdominal muscles, a lot of bare-ass, butt-shaking and thong-wearing bodies but never full-frontal nudity. If this film did have full-frontal nudity, everyone would be drawn to the biggest member in the room and that isn't McConaughey. Nor is it Channing Tatum who stars as the titular character and who is no more in the buff than he was in The Vow (2012).

When it comes to male revues like the Chippendales or the one depicted here, there seems to be an air about them that elevates them from being basically live pornography, which most strip clubs for men strive to be. Strip clubs for men just want the girls to take their tops off and show their breasts, then pull the panties off and with the help of a pole, reveal how flexible they can be. Yet, these male revues aren't just about the nudity. They're about the music, the costumes and the choreography. As Dallas says, it's about fulfilling fantasies.

This movie, despite how bold it thinks it is, is indicative of how most people assume men and women think about sex. The assumption is that men don't care about romance. All they want is to get to the naked body and the humping. On the other side, it's assumed women don't ultimately care about getting to the action. Women like the foreplay and the fantasy, the tease and the titillation.

All this is negated when the character of Adam is introduced. Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four and Beastly) plays Adam, a 19-year-old college dropout who after losing his football scholarship stays with his sister Brooke, played by Cody Horn, in Tampa, Florida. Adam has never danced on stage or had to strip for people before. Yet, Channing Tatum's Mike pushes Adam in front of a ton of screaming women all by himself. Adam is in a red hoodie, jeans and tennis shoes. He doesn't have any moves. He just reluctantly pulls off everything but his boxer-briefs and the women go wild, and, based on that, Dallas gives him a job at the club.

If the fantasy is what women want, then how does writer Reid Carolin explain that moment? How does he explain a character like Joanna, played by Olivia Munn (I Don't Know How She Does It)? Joanna isn't into fantasy or romance, as far as we can see. Joanna is all about having sex with Mike and not dating him or even talking to him afterward. Mike introduces Joanna to Brooke and Joanna's first instinct is to propose a threesome with no strings attached.

Considering all the women that swirl around Mike and that swirl around the other strippers, the artifice that the guys create would seem to be pointless. The first stripper other than Mike and Dallas is Ken, played by Matt Bomer (White Collar). During his solo on stage, he pretends to be a life-size doll like the male counterpart to Barbie. Joe Manganiello (True Blood) plays Big Dick Richie who puts on a fireman's outfit. Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) plays Tito who dresses up like a naval officer. Kevin Nash, a former WWF performer known as Diesel, who plays Tarzan wears a loincloth and swings from a vine like the Edgar Rice Burroughs character.

After a while, Adam starts to wear costumes. He becomes a cowboy or he dresses like a boxer or some guy in a gym. It's nothing too extravagant or even elaborate. Mike in one dance dresses like a construction worker, which is what his day job actually is, but it just seems never to matter. Mike is a good dancer, but it's not like he has to dance, as evidenced earlier. He could just do what Adam did his first night. Being that Tatum has a bigger and better body, he could still get the women to scream without much effort. Either way seems to work, so it's unclear what the filmmakers here are saying about women and what they want, as opposed to what these strippers understand about their clientele and what they can easily sell.

What's also unclear is the economics and the financial situation of its characters. Aside from giving this film a warm, orange, 1970s vibe, director Steven Soderbergh visually contradicts the text and possibly subtext here. Mike needs a bank loan in order to get his furniture business off the ground, which is in the text of this movie. Apparently, he has a low credit rating, indicating he's had money troubles in the past. Yet, nothing visually in this film would suggest that in the slightest.

Visually, Mike's money troubles don't exist. He lives in a nice house right on the beach. He drives a new, black truck. He manages two businesses. One is automobile detailing and the other is a roofing company. While there might be some context clues, Soderbergh makes everything look so good and so rich in terms of color and framing that we never feel as if anything is wrong in Mike's world until the scene where he is denied his loan, which is like a slap to the face. Everything is beautiful and good until then.

Soderbergh perhaps puts us under the same delusion that Mike is under. Unfortunately, while under this delusion, it makes it difficult for us to get to know Mike. How did he become the manager of these businesses? How did he even come to be involved with this strip club? There's an easy inference to make, but one possible scenario bouncing in my head is that Mike was a failed dancer who needed an outlet, anyone he could find because, as we see, Mike is an incredible dancer, high and above all the other strippers by skyscrapers.

Channing Tatum is himself a great dancer and thanks to Soderbergh's long, continuous wide shots, Tatum's moves are shown and appreciated in all their glory. The dance sequences in their theatricality and humor tend to be ridiculous, especially when Tatum wears nothing but a backwards baseball cap and a thong and is thrusting his crotch in some woman's face, but they're never boring.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the blurred lines of sexuality in this film, particularly when it came to the character of Adam. First, Brooke assumes that Adam is gay because he has a suitcase full of thongs and because he shaves his legs. Later, Dallas shows Adam how to move like a stripper. This involves Dallas being incredibly close to Adam and in fact gyrating against Adam's rear-end with his arm wrapped around him, which would have been fine, if the scene hadn't gone for so long and end with the two men thrusting their pelvises at each other. After that, Mike shows up at Brooke's place in drag as Marilyn Monroe, and there's a scene where Adam is about to have a four-way with Ken and instead of focusing on the two girls, Adam and Ken go back and forth about how much they love each other.

It's too bad that we don't get to know more about Ken. Other than that scene, Ken only has one other line in the whole movie. All the other dancers get only one or two lines as well. Hearing more from them would have helped greatly to fill out this world and give us a sense of how or why some men come to stripping other than the obvious reasons. It also would have given a bigger and better platform for Bomer, Manganiello and Rodriguez who have all been great in their respective TV roles.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.


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