Mike (Channing Tatum), one of the star attractions at a Tampa strip club, meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), an aimless college dropout, and ushers him into the world of erotic entertainment.
Magic Mike comes awfully damn close to being a good movie, and there’s evidence it could possibly have been a very good one. You have to hand it to the marketing people at Warner Bros., as they took what is occasionally a dark character study and knowing look at the inner workings of the world of male strippers (the movie is loosely based on Tatum’s experiences as a stripper, so it obviously knows of what it speaks [even if the club featured in the movie does cater only to women, which would likely put a serious dent in its revenue stream]) and sold it to the Fifty Shades of Grey crowd, turning a small, independently financed flick (it was reportedly made for 7 million dollars) into a smash. This is most definitely not the movie most people assumed it to be, which is most definitely a good thing. It’s just too bad it’s also not the movie it could have been.
A lot of people wondered what in the world Steven Soderbergh was doing making a movie about male strippers, but he was actually the ideal candidate to helm this sort of story. His commercial instincts are just as strong as his noncommercial ones, and Magic Mike is something of a mash-up of the commercial and the more ambitious. The movie drapes itself in clichés (and just story clichés; there’s a dance number set to “It’s Raining Men”), but it also gives you something of an idea of why those clichés are nevertheless often true. There’s something of a sameness to fictional tales of people who work in any facet of the sex trade, but there’s also a sameness to the nonfiction ones. Certain types of people are drawn to this type of work, and of those types, it’s fairly easy to chart the path each type will take and how his/her journey will end.
Mike and Adam represent two of these types, with the former being someone who views the industry as a launching pad, the latter someone who sees it as a way to make a quick buck. But Mike gets too good at the game (portraying what the strippers do as something of an elaborate con game is one thing the movie does very well), and he has a hard time walking away from what he knows is steady money. Adam just wants to get something for nothing, and it’s not long before he’s making some very bad decisions. Peddling flesh (to whatever extent it goes) more often than not appeals to people with addictive personalities, and both Mike and Adam exhibit that sort of behavior, albeit to different degrees. It doesn’t take much to figure out where each is headed.
But here’s the thing: the script (credited to Reid Carolin, Tatum’s producing partner) doesn’t dig deep enough with Mike or (especially) Adam, who despite Pettyfer’s fine work is never anything more than a symbol. We never really get a full sense of what’s going on inside their heads or have a clear idea of why they make certain decisions; consequently many of the tropes the movie employs never rise above the level of cliché. I’m willing to accept that much of what the movie portrays is real, but I’m not willing to accept that what happens here would happen this quickly or neatly. The first hour or so of the movie is all parties, easy women, and good times, while the remainder takes a turn for the dark. But it’s a sudden, sharp turn, with nothing more than title cards to indicate how much time has passed. The script leaves too much out, too often sacrificing character and connective tissue for (often overlong) scenes that waste time and/or offer rote portrayals of what’s de rigueur for this sort of story. (Do we really need to see the guys shopping and working out? No, but we get to anyway.)
This lack of plot and character development extends to the relationship between Mike and Brooke, Adam’s sister. You know that at some point the movie will find a way to focus its gaze on them, but there’s nothing to make you understand why something may or may not happen between them. They’re opposite-sex movie characters who have a couple of conversations, and Hollywood law says they eventually have to go off by themselves, so they do; it’s pretty much that simple. And the lack of any meaningful reason for them to do what they do seriously cripples the final act, which hinges on a series of decisions that make little or no sense. Again, I have no problem believing people would make these decisions and act the way the characters here do, but there’s not a whole lot to clue you in on why these particular people make these decisions.
There’s another problem with this aspect of the movie, and that’s the performance of Cody Horn, who plays Brooke. Horn is absolutely terrible. Her expression changes exactly three times, the inflection of her voice maybe twice. One scene early in the third act serves as a fulcrum on which the remainder of the movie rests, and Horn completely ruins it by mistaking her character for an eight-year-old brat, laughably (and poorly) pitching a tantrum instead of getting genuinely angry. Soderbergh is known for getting good performances out of people who usually embarrass themselves (Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight being the example, of course), but not even he can do anything with Horn. (Were the Channing Tatum featured here the Channing Tatum of old, Horn would have been a good match, as then you’d have a matching pair of stone faces. But the Tatum you get here is one that can act, which makes Horn’s presence all the more unfortunate.)
This is purely speculation on my part, but I think the truly good parts of this movie are, for lack of a better word, accidental. At the risk of contradicting statements I made earlier, I think Tatum and Carolin set out to make a commercial movie and enriched the script to a degree by unconsciously adding in elements only someone who lived the life would know. This is a conventional morality play/cautionary tale/melodramatic exposé that benefits from a working knowledge of the world being portrayed, not a docudrama that knows it also needs to play to the crowd. But if only they had balanced it more, if only this had truly been a character study and warts-and-all exploration of the stripping life. Had Tatum and Carolin realized the possibilities inherent in what they had, had they fully explored why what so often seems to happen to these people does indeed happen, Magic Mike could have truly transcended its (undeserved) reputation as bridal-shower fare. There’s a genuinely good movie lurking in the shadows here, but it unfortunately never emerges.
Quick closing aside: If you can, take a look at all of the small-print legal mumbo-jumbo on the back of this release’s packaging. Pay careful attention to the entity listed as the copyright holder. That’s a good joke.
The 2.40:1/1080p transfer--encoded with AVC onto a 50GB disc--brings out the best in the movie’s stylized look, but it also exacerbates a few of the flaws in the original photography. Soderbergh, employing his favored RED Digital cameras, once again acted as his own cinematographer (he also edited the movie), and the shifting visual schemes he loves are on display here. The scenes in the club are bright and vibrant, full of boldly saturated colors. Some exteriors have a naturalistic look that gets something of a push from the Florida sun and tropical vegetation. One lengthy party scene is drenched in a wan yellow, and most dark interiors are coated in the ruddy orange Soderbergh uses so often. The latter proves to be somewhat problematic, as it robs the image of detail to a small degree and gives rise to some slightly noisy, blocky backgrounds. Other than that, though, this is a great transfer, slick, detailed, and film-like.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides a good, convincing sense of place and space in dialogue-driven scenes, and quite naturally goes completely nuts during the dance sequences. Dialogue has a full, natural quality, and its character smoothly shifts as locations change. Scenes inside the club’s showroom are loud, enveloping, and bolstered by a low end that knows no bounds. The music (most of which consists of prerecorded songs) sounds excellent (although the fidelity is so strong it undercuts a scene in which Matthew McConaughey performs an original song for the crowd at the club, as it’s obvious the vocal isn’t “live.”)
Dolby Digital English 2.0, French 5.1, and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also included; English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
All of the extras here (which are squarely aimed at the wedding-shower crowd) are presented in high-def.
Backstage on Magic Mike (7 minutes) is an EPK-style piece that focuses largely on the dance sequences.
Extended dance scenes (9 minutes) showcase longer and excised numbers by some of the supporting players.
Dance play mode (19 minutes) takes all of the dance sequences from the movie and strings them together.
Some copies will also include a DVD and code to access an UltraViolet digital download.
I went back and forth on this one for the better part of a day (I know evidence presented above doesn’t seem to support a vacillating opinion, but it’s true), and I ultimately decided I have to call this one a near miss. Magic Mike contains moments of true greatness and flashes of real insight, but it also contains much that is too familiar, falls short, or doesn’t work at all. This movie is worth seeing, but in my mind there’s too much squandered potential to make it worth owning.