Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Magic Mike (2012) - Steven Soderbergh

I like Steven Soderbergh. I like the way he’s able to flit between smaller indie flicks and big studio films. I like the way he jumps between genres with ease, normally subverting said genre by subtly twisting the audiences expectaitions and ending up somewhere slightly different to the film they thought they were going to watch. Most of all I like him for having a vision, a reason for doing what it is he’s doing. I really hope he finds the urge to make more films and doesn’t retire, but rather takes a sabbatical for a while. I haven’t loved or even seen every film he’s ever made (I've seen most though), but I really did enjoy Magic Mike. If it wasn’t for a few key things then I’d probably be writing that I loved Magic Mike, but we can get to that in a minute.

Magic Mike has the simplest of plots, one that you’ve seen time and time again. It’s the old young kid is taken on a journey through a strange new world by an older wiser man. Knowledge will be passed down and lessons will be learnt. You know the sort of thing. The young kid in this case is 20 something problem type - Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who is unable to hold down a job and lives with his sister - Brooke (Cody Horn). He’s befriended by Mike (Channing Tatum) who shows him the world behind the curtain of male stripping.

That’s the basics, but being a Soderbergh film it’s a little more than that. So you get a lot of stripping, there’s at least seven or so set pieces and they are superb and very creative. But there’s also a side story about Mike being an entrepreneur and trying to get his business dreams off the ground in a world where money isn’t being lent out so easily, along with Adam’s tale of flying the nest. Channing Tatum is a revelation as Mike, he can do all the physical gubbins that the role requires, the dancing and moving must be second nature to a guy whose C.V. includes not one but two Step Up films. The impressive thing is that he can act, taking Mike from a shallow all surface type to something a little more human by the time the film wraps up, without anything feeling false or forced.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said Cody Horn who seems to have one blank expression that she uses in every scene. She’s not in the film all that much, but when she is you’ll be reminded that you’re just watching a film. Alex Pettyfer is a little better, but I didn’t really buy the journey he went on, it felt like some scenes must have gotten lost along the way in the editing suite. At one point he’s turned into a drug hoover, which felt a little sudden. The only other actor to really give Tatum a run for his money is Matthew McConaughey. After his incredible turn in Killer Joe, McConaughey manages to impress yet again with very little screen time as Mike’s boss - Dallas. He’s a scream, and manages to pull a performance out of himself that I would never have thought possible. Do you remember Tom Cruise in Magnolia? Well it’s that sort of 180° style turn. I hope he can keep it up, he even reprises his ‘Alright, alright, alright’ drawl from Dazed and Confused.

It’s strange that the world of male stripping is so vastly different to that of it’s female counterpart. The biggest difference being the audience, at male strip clubs the onlookers are almost 100% female, all of whom seem to laugh and shriek their way through the show. Women seem to quite often turn up in groups and it's thought of as more of a night out, a bit of fun. Juxtapose that with the far sleazier crowd that watch women peeling of their undies and you’ll see what I mean. Very odd that they can be poles apart, but they are. At the end of the day it boils down to why people would choose to watch another person remove their clothes on a small stage. For women I think it's less sexual than it is for men. I don't have anything to back that up, it's just what I'm guessing. Although having never frequented either male or female strip clubs I'm probably not the person most qualified to make that judgement.

The biggest problem with Magic Mike for me though was that the whole story had been done far better in Boogie Nights. The rise and fall and slight rise again story, the substitute family (Mike as the father, Brooke as the mother), hell there’s even a scene where a character unsuccessfully and uncomfortably tries to raise a loan, not to mention the descent in drugs hell section. All of which Boogie Nights did before and better. If Boogie Nights didn’t exist then Magic Mike would feel far more original, but it does exist and it’s a far better film. So where does that leave Magic Mike then? Well it’s good solid entertainment, nothing more nothing less. Well worth seeing for Matthew McConaughey alone, but you get the bonus of a Channing Tatum acting like a potential Oscar nominee. Being a Steven Soderbergh film means that it’s well directed and edited (by Soderbergh himself), but it does feel that it was put together a little too quickly in places with a few scenes that feel a little flat and character motivations that you’ll have to fill in for yourself. The stripping scenes are great fun and Soderbergh doesn’t short change his audience when it comes to that stuff. Overall it’s well worth your time, but there’s far more depth to be found in either The Full Monty or Boogie Nights, although neither of them feature assless chaps to quite the degree that Magic Mike does.

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