by Patrick Bromley
Warner Bros. really shouldn't be blamed, as they've done an excellent job marketing the movie: they're selling a big, fun, naked guy party, and I'm actually glad that's the route they've chosen to take. It's getting a bunch of people (mostly women) out to the theater thinking that they're getting that, then tricking them into seeing a Steven Soderbergh movie.
Make no mistake about it: Magic Mike is very much a modern-era Steven Soderbergh movie. It features his usual overlapping editing rhythms. It's impeccably photographed, as always by Soderbergh himself (under the name Peter Andrews). It has, at times, the documentary-like feel of Bubble; it has the same concerns with what we're willing to sell for money as The Girlfriend Experience; it has characters who construct identities by lying to themselves like Matt Damon in The Informant!. Though there are plenty of stripping sequences to keep the ladies who line up to see the movie satiated, the movie is much more thoughtful than the big naked party it pretends to be.
Mike meets an aimless but good looking 19-year old named Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who he quickly gets in the door at Xquisite; before long, Adam is dubbed "The Kid" and thrown up on stage, more than happy to indulge in the life of sex, drugs and cash afforded to him as a dancer. Mike also takes an interest in Brooke (Cody Horn), Adam's no-nonsense sister, who sees right through his bullshit but likes him anyway. As The Kid is falls further under the spell of Xquisite and its owner, former male dancer and possible sleazy con man Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, doing either an excellent job of either sending up his own image or just being himself), Mike slowly realizes that his lifestyle is less a means to an end than a definition of who he is.
Did anyone else see this Channing Tatum thing coming? I know he's had a following for years, mostly made up of teenage girls who think he's cute and like him in his Step Up and Nicholas Sparks movies. He's never done much for me, however; his best performances (like in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Stop-Loss) always seemed like a case of good casting over good acting. But between his work in Haywire, a brilliant (that's right) comic turn in 21 Jump Street and now Magic Mike, Tatum is pretty much owning 2012. Here he gets to be funny and charming, smart but misguided. Fake. Sincere. Shallow. Wounded. He gets to take off his shirt. He gets to dance a lot, at which he is great. This is his first real movie star turn, and it actually suits him well. That doesn't mean that he's going to start playing roles way outside of his comfort zone, but that's true of a lot of movie stars. We go to see them do the things that they do best. That's what Magic Mike does for Channing Tatum.
Magic Mike is not a great movie -- it doesn't break any molds, and there isn't much in the movie that we don't see coming -- but it is a very good movie, and further proof that Soderbergh can elevate almost any material he touches. This summer has been filled with pleasant surprises: movies that are better than we expect, or that are different or interesting and carve out space for themselves. Magic Mike continues that trend, and keeps Soderbergh's amazing streak of navigating indie-style movies inside the studio system alive. It's too bad, then, that half the audience is going to see it for the wrong reasons and be disappointed, while the other half is going avoid it for those same reasons and miss out on something special. Serves them right, I guess.