Synopsis: A male stripper teaches a younger performer how to party, pick up women, and make easy money.
Stars: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Olivia Munn
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running Length: 110 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Chef ~ Paul Rathburn
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: In the heat of the summer we retreat to movie theaters for escapist entertainment – sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. We thrill to large scale action adventures that transport us to different dimensions (some in 3D!) The staple of summer popcorn films is the counterprogramming of studio films to balance out the weeks between movies like The Avengers, Prometheus, and The Dark Knight. In the final week of June there is calm before the storm of July and on June 29 two non-action effects extravaganzas are being released. One is People Like Us which I reviewed a few weeks ago and the other is Magic Mike, director Soderbergh’s latest experiment and Tatum’s fourth film released in 2012. The biggest trick that Magic Mike has up its sleeve is the sleight of hand the marketing department has pulled on audiences that will go into this thinking it’s a chick flick comedy full of naked buff men and romantic entanglements. Yes, skin is shown and things get tangled but it’s a dreary affair that’s not very fun and not very funny.
“Loosely” inspired by Tatum’s own pre-Hollywood life as a stripper, Magic Mike is a ginormous misfire that would be unwatchable were it not for a few inspired performances and Soderbergh’s hot glistening cinematography. (Why Soderbergh still relies on a pseudonym when he’s the cinematographer is a mystery).
Soderbergh is one of the most frustrating of directors operating in Hollywood today. The man has had some incredible peaks and awesomely awful valleys of his career and one must appreciate his willingness to fail in such a grand scale. His problem lies with his continued allegiance to inspiration from material that doesn’t belong on screen, which can create discord with the players and audience who can never really become one with the material.
Now I’m sure when Soderbergh and Tatum were sitting around between takes on Haywire that Tatum’s story sounded like a cinematic bull’s-eye to the director. Stripper by night, struggling entrepreneur by day Tatum’s Mike supposedly has a heart of gold but it’s never revealed how he came to do what he does or why he seeks a start-up business loan from a bank when he’s literally rolling in sweaty greenbacks. In an overall storyline that stretches across the three months of a Florida summer, we follow Mike and his co-workers both on and offstage in various stages of undress.
Enter Adam (Pettyfer) who we learn has squandered away an athletic scholarship and has now taken up residence on the Tampa, FL couch of his sister (Horn). A chance meeting with Mike on a construction site and one night of bar hopping later Adam is awkwardly onstage at the XQuisite male dance revue run by Dallas (McConaughey). How Adam moves from outside to backstage to onstage is a cinematic contrivance you’d be blind to not see telegraphed out fairly early.
Now that has the makings of a decent movie, right. There’s humor to be mined, drama to be explored, and more than enough opportunity to give the audience what they want in terms of celebrity skin. Unfortunately, what we end up with is a movie that’s less Boogie Nights, Showgirls, and All About Eve than it is like a male version of Coyote Ugly (thanks to my +1 Brian Skellenger for reminded me of that B-Movie Classic). Going further, Magic Mike actually makes Coyote Ugly look like Gone With the Wind in terms of cinematic achievement.
Don’t get me wrong, the athletic frames and waxed chests of Tatum, Pettyfer, Bomer, Manganiello, and McConaughey are on full thong display but after a while the sight of yet another fuzzy rump had most of the audience yawning rather than squealing with delight. Still, with the exception of twelve pack abs of Maganiello the rest of the men start to blend together after a while and their stripping scenes are more montaged than anything else. It’s not remotely sexy or titillating which is what many will be plunking down their bills to see. Actually, the most effective moment is when McConaughey is teaching Pettyfer the basic rules of the bump and grind in a garishly mirrored workout studio and tiny biking shorts.
Speaking of McConaughey, much like Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages his performance is so over the top and crazy that I found myself applauding his efforts rather than knocking him points for it. If anything, he has the riskiest role in the movie and even if his character seems a bit underwritten he knows just how far to take the guy without losing us in the process. Cruise ultimately wins this showdown but McConnaughey steps up to the plate admirably and in much less clothes (if that’s possible)
The other standout is Horn as Pettyfer’s sister. While she struggles with some of the lighter material she’s a nice grounding presence when onscreen with her believable delivery and curiously charming looks. It’s unfortunate that she’s paired with Tatum and Pettyfer as screen partners but they should count themselves lucky she was there to save their scenes.
Pettyfer struggles both with an American accent and with a role that’s too sullen to be absorbing. I think I get what he was going for but instead of coming off as someone who is surprised that he can make money by doffing his kit, he appears aloof and not as part of the action as he should be. Bomer and Manganiello are glorified cameos as they don’t have much to do outside of the club scenes.
Tatum is the star of the show and any good will he’s built up this year with Haywire, The Vow, and 21 Jump Street gets blown to smithereens in an egotistical and drab performance that I’m sure he thought was going to going to nab him some awards. Well, he may be looking at a Razzie Award for Worst Actor and he would definitely deserve it. He’s clearly the best dancer and the most comfortable onstage yet he’s strangely concealed thanks to the camera angles and other actors. Tatum labors hard with his dialogue but just sounds like he’s forgotten his lines half the time.
That brings me to the script which was “written” by Reid Carolin (who also shows up as Horn’s boyfriend) I put that in quotes because I find it hard to believe there was a script to the film at all. Nearly everything sounds like one long acting improv exercise put on by himbos that have never met or interacted with another human being before. You can tell it’s improv-ed because when in doubt the actors drop the “F” bomb to fill in words they can’t think of fast enough. Now I don’t have any problem with blue language when it’s called for but here it’s overused to the point of annoyance by a crew that can’t even say it with any conviction.
All of this mess is up on screen courtesy of Soderbergh and at this point in his career I feel like I want to give up on him. Where is the man that gave us sex…lies…and videotape? Or Out of Sight? Or Traffic? After a string of duds that were not fulfilling at all I think Soderbergh is losing his way as he delves deeper into his artistic mind. This film is an example of a movie that never should have happened or, if it had to happen, should have been structured and filmed differently.
Soderbergh has always been a brilliant cinematographer and that’s true here. His view of Florida by day stands in stark contrast to the hallucinatory nightlife he captures onscreen. It’s visually excellent but then those pesky actors have to start to talk and it all goes to pot. Music wise, this has one of the worst soundtracks ever. Quentin Tarantino Soderbergh is not, showing no flair for song choice and calling on really heinous remixes of familiar songs. It’s a nightmare to listen to.
I feel for the countless numbers of moviegoers that made plans around seeing this film over the weekend. They are in for a movie they didn’t sign up for and don’t deserve. If you do see this movie and do like it I want to hear about it – I really do! However, if all you can talk about is how hot the men are then save it because that bucket doesn’t hold water in my book.