Steven Soderbergh has put so much quality in to Magic Mike that you won’t be seeing any back handed reviews like, “Magic Mike is the best male stripper movie you’ll ever see,” because it is actually one of the best films of the year.
Before we get in to Magic Mike let’s stop and acknowledge the feat director Steven Soderbergh has just pulled off. Over the last eight months the prolific director has released three full blown studio films, each of which is so unique that you wouldn’t know he directed each of them except for his love of the yellow filter. And not only are they all unique visions, but they are all really good movies. Contagion was one of the best films of last year and an intriguing horror film, Haywire was an inventive and wonderfully put together action/spy type movie that featured some of the best fights of the year, and now Magic Mike delivers one of the most fun, hilarious, and raw dramas of the year; the dude better not retire soon like he says he might because he is killing it.
Magic Mike is loosely based on Channing Tatum’s pre-acting career and as a producer he contributed a lot of details based on what he saw during his days as a dancer of the night. The film is being sold as sex, strippers and abs, and there is plenty of that, but it is also an interesting little character study that really captures its setting and throws it up on the big screen. The film transports you into the world of Magic Mike and his dancing friends and Soderbergh lovingly brings it to life. Soderbergh tags the film with the 70’s Warner Brothers logo and that is no accident as the film feels like it could have been pulled from the era. The film is gritty and real, yet flashy and technically pristine from top to bottom. Soderbergh shoots the hell out of this thing and he demands a lot of great work from his actors in a number of extended takes and sequences that shine due to his actors stepping up to the plate and his execution of some brilliant shots. I could go on and on about the technical merits of the film, but all you need to know is that it looked great and will wow you if you are looking for it. It’s Soderbergh’s sharpest looking film since the Ocean’s movies.
Soderbergh could make the movie as gorgeous as he wants but if he doesn’t have the actors to pull off the story it isn’t going to matter a whole lot. Plot wise, the film doesn’t have much of one. The first act of the film is simply us getting to know these guys and getting introduced into the world Mike lives in and the rest of the film just takes us deeper into the world for us to experience and, hopefully, enjoy. I for one was fully on board and even though the third act could have been a little bit stronger and not have stacked the deck so heavily against Mike, it was only a minor bump in the road. The movie blazes along, but we really get to know all of these guys just enough to make the film work as well as it does.
The picture is a pet project of Tatum’s and he takes full advantage of the opportunity Soderbergh gives him. The guy is just great here, infinitely likable, charming as hell and he has the physicality the part demands. The women in the audience were swooning for Tatum & friends, but it’s his acting chops that make the film work; he makes you care about Mike and his plight. I hope Soderbergh continues to work together with Tatum (and they are in The Bitter Pill) as the director could really help him continue to break the mold people are trying to put him in. Alex Pettyfer is our introduction into this world and he does as good a work as he ever has in front of a camera here, getting across exactly what his character is capable of in some limited screen time. Cody Horn plays the female lead in the picture and she might be the weakest link in the cast, but is solid none the less. She makes her and Tatum’s chemistry together palpable and we need to believe that if the films narrative is going to work in the end. Olivia Munn is also quite good in a limited supporting role here as she shows some real depth and sadness in a character that is rarely on camera; she is very funny and sexy too. The other dancers played by Joe Manganiello, Matt Boomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Kevin Nash all deliver a wealth of energy into their characters and scenes and they all really help the film stay upbeat nature and are consistently hilarious; the film is the funniest of the summer.
Above everyone else though is Matthew McConaughey who is just firing on all cylinders here. I mean, the guy delivers the best performance of the year, which I have seen, as it is all at once hilarious, intense, creepy, and so sexually charged that he leaves everyone in his wake. The guy takes every stereotype, joke, or label applied to him and plays them up to an 11 and never holds back once throughout the picture. One of my favorite shots of the year happens here when they cut away to McConaughey when “The Kid” performs for the first time and you just can’t get a handle on the guy and what he is thinking and that energy and mystery makes him so unpredictable that you can’t help but be mesmerized by him. McConaughey for Best Supporting Actor!
Magic Mike is a great film for fans of the craft of filmmaking, acting, and naked men running around stage. People who line up for the sex are going to be pleasantly surprised with how good the movie is underneath and those that are being scared away by the male gyrating need to check their homophobia at the door and see Magic Mike already. The film is probably the best film of the summer and will be hard to knock out of my top 10 come the end of the year. Now, I need to go to some abs work.
Magic Mike is an A