Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Magic Mike (2012) - Strippers Who are Sensitive Guys

Magic Mike poster
Magic Mike (2012).

Steven Soderbergh directs "Magic Mike" (2012, a film about male strippers. Soderbergh is a respected director who made his name with another tale of sexual shenanigans, "Sex, Lies and Videotape," so apparently he has some affinity for the genre. Remember, this is the guy that directed "Erin Brockovich" and the "Ocean's Eleven" trio of films, so he has something on the ball. You may go into this film expecting sheer exploitation and titillating scenes, but that isn't what you'll find. Or, at least, not as much of it as you likely expect or want.

Two girls and a guy at the beach in Magic Mike

Mike (Channing Tatum), an experienced stripper, takes a younger performer called The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and schools him in the arts of partying, picking up women, and making easy money. It turns out there is a lot more to being a male stripper than you might think. It's, like, really hard. Who knew?

Some guys dancing in Magic Mike

"Magic Mike" follows the familiar pattern of films of this type of sexual biography/comedy/drama ("Boogie Nights" being the one that springs right to mind).  It starts out light and breezy, but by the second half it is wallowing in its own pathos as the fun times disappear. You mean it's not all fun and games? Wow. Wouldn't you know it, in real life there are real-life problems. The advertising campaign for this film made it seem as though it were one big "Full Monty" which concentrates on its male stars' physical attributes. At least "Boogie Nights" had some good sex scenes in it, and you got a (somewhat fanciful) look at the star's bits so you could judge for yourself what the big deal was. Not so much here.

Male dancers shirtless in Magic Mike

There are several things that are likely to leave you dissatisfied. One of the major complaints about this film is that there is no ending. Problems are not resolved, everything keeps flowing, you get kind of a random chunk out of these guys' lives without much resolution. A good film usually wraps things up somewhat, even if in a ambiguous way (did Butch and Sundance really get killed?). Not so here. Perhaps the production company, Iron Horse Entertainment, was just setting everyone up for the inevitable sequel. The sequel, naturally, already, of course, has been ordered.

A couple of male dancers in street clothes in Magic Mike

Another complaint is that the film isn't all that funny. That can be okay, it could be dramatic - but it isn't. Well, there's always romance... but it isn't romantic, either. There is no over-riding theme (aside from the stripping). Relationships float around these guys, but then fall flat. The level of originality here is shown when they play The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men." Man, who would have thought of using that old chestnut outside of a gay pride parade?

Matthew McConaughey doing his act in Magic Mike

So with what are we left?  Alas, poor Yorick, not very much. There are a bunch of half-baked "erotic" dances that add nothing to the plot, add nothing to the characters' complexity, add basically nothing at all. If you want sexy dances, there are plenty of music videos to find them in easier than going to see "Magic Mike." Whether or not the dances here are really sexy at all is up to you to decide, but they looked kind of cheesey to these eyes.  Britney Spears' backup dancers do a much better job.  Matthew McConaughey just embarrassed himself, being in this sleazy mess, though he made his name in the slightly sleazy "Dazed and Confused" (1993), so his career has gone full circle.   I compare this to "Showgirls" (1995), the disaster of another top director who went slumming. If you saw that one for the "erotic dances," you likely left sorely disappointed. That film, though, had a major subplot of dancer-as-psycho, which at least would have kept you in your seat while suffering through the endless, repetitive that was nothing you couldn't have seen onstage somewhere nearby.

Channing Tatum at the beach with a girl in Magic Mike

The most annoying thing about this film, though, wasn't the film itself, it was the hype. The hype was unbelievable. "Male strippers!  Washboard abs! Nice butts! Leering women! Males as sex objects."  "The "Citizen Kane" of stripper movies!"  (That was an actual quote on some advertisements!).  Nothing but an adult film could have lived down - oops, I meant up - to all that. This film doesn't try to do that, I mean, what did you expect. Soderbergh was smart to craft a normal film that doesn't go too far. But it also isn't clear when you watch "Magic Mike" what the film is trying to do, other than make a boatload of money (you knew it would, with the only expense being to put a bunch of cheap young actors on stage and have them strut around, while implying that it is "wild times"). It seems to be a look at strippers as people, which is a nice way to pretend that you aren't just trying to cater to those who want to leer at buff guys.

A male dancer wearing a police hat in Magic Mike

The bottom line is this: the only interesting or original thing about "Magic Mike" is that it focuses on male strippers and shows them in action, rather than on female strippers (though there are various females who manage to show their stuff as well). Whoop Dee Do, what a concept. The rest of the film is talk, talk talk, "Hey, let's go get a sandwich," talk talk talk.  Getting sucked in by the hype is our own fault. If we let it happen, we need to take responsibility, and if we keep letting it happen, someone needs to stage an intervention.  If you really think you will get your rocks off with this tame crap, grab a copy and give it a whirl, but you won't have much to go on.  If you don't want to get suckered in with a classic bait-and-switch film, though, I'd give this one a pass.


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