Magic Mike Review
“The law says you mustn't touch. But I see a lot of lawbreakers in the audience tonight...and not a cop in sight.” Thus Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) in the opening scene, or prologue, if you will of Magic Mike. After that, subdivided into month captions, Steven Soderbergh's film settles on two lead characters. In present-day Tampa, Florida, nineteen-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) is out of work and sleeping on his sister's couch. Then he meets Mike (Channing Tatum) and is surprised to see what he does for a living – he's a male stripper at a club owned by Dallas. While Adam soon takes to a lifestyle of easy money and girls, Mike is becoming dissatisfied, wanting to leave the profession and set up his own business. And Dallas is not so benevolent as he seems.
For someone not yet fifty who claims to be about to retire from big-screen filmmaking, Steven Soderbergh (who is also his own cinematographer and editor, under the pseudonyms Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard respectively) is turning out films at a rare old clip. His has been a fascinating career, at first done on a basis of “one for them, one for me”, with tiny-budget indies alternating with big-budget commercial fare such as the Ocean's films. More recently, those categories have merged and he has become a “smuggler”, taking a genre film (disaster movie in Contagion, martial arts actioner in Haywire and now this, made on a budget of just $7 million) and making something a little more distinctive and personal out of it. He still respects the expectations of the genre: here, if you make a film about male strippers you make sure you deliver on the promise. With some twenty minutes of strip scenes, there are enough buff torsos and tight buttocks for anyone. In the midst of all this activity, Soderbergh also took time out to direct second unit on The Hunger Games.
Magic Mike doesn't have the most original of storylines: it's the old Faustian bargain plot in a new, less-well-explored setting. Adam begins as the main character, but the real focus is on Mike: the film is after all named after him, and Alex Pettyfer tends to shade into the background beside Channing Tatum. And meanwhile the self-reinvention of Matthew McConaughey continues apace. He looks great and gives Dallas a suitable edge to his initial affability. I'll predict now a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination or even win for this performance, given that Killer Joe is likely too dark and violent and NC-17-rated for the Academy to get behind.
Working from a script by Reid Carolin, Soderbergh succeeds in taking straight-ahead genre material and giving it some style, atmosphere and intelligence while still delivering the genre goods, and makes it look deceptively easy. It's easy to despair about much of contemporary American filmmaking but you shouldn't do that when directors as quirky and intelligent as Soderbergh are around. If he does retire and not just take a sabbatical (he'll have earned it), it will be American cinema's loss.