Magic Mike

I was very surprised by how much I liked Magic Mike. That’s not to say that I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t have a bad time like I expected. Given that I’m not the target audience — and given that my theater was about 97% female, I don’t think the film finding an audience is going to be a problem — I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it, but it turns out that director Steven Soderberg can make a movie out of anything and I’ll probably at least have kind of a good time. Of course, I figured that it wouldn’t just be a male stripper movie, given the director, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

It doesn’t start out this way, however. We begin in a weird period, like the movie begins in a time and place where we should have already gotten to know our characters. I was lost for a while because of this, although it ended up being an effective way to hook us in. Since I felt lost, I paid closer attention so that I didn’t miss anything. We see how Mike (Channing Tatum) goes about his day job working construction, and how he meets a man lost on the path of life, Adam (Alex Pettyfer). Adam doesn’t currently have a clear direction, but he’s about to get one.

After bonding rather quickly. Mike takes Adam backstage at the gig he does to earn a little extra cash, and also because he finds it fun: A male stripping joint run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Before long, Adam is participating, much to the chagrin of his sister, Paige (Cody Horn). He finally has a reason to live, I guess, and decides that this is what his true calling is. And, thus, we have a male stripper movie. Yes, there are lots of dance numbers, and yes, you’re going to see more of many of these actors than you’ve ever seen before.

However, that’s not all that Magic Mike is about. You know how in those gangster movies, a young kid is taken in under the wing of a veteran, but eventually one or both of them learns that the life might not be all it’s cracked up to be? Magic Mike is similar in a lot of ways, and turns much darker than you might initially expect. It starts out fun and energetic but slowly gets dark and has the life drained from it. Did you really think that Soderberg would just make a male stripper movie?

If you’re here just for the stripping scenes because you want to see Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer — not to mention a couple of other in-shape males as well — then you won’t be disappointed. These scenes are expertly choreographed, shot with as few cuts as possible (some of them are one take for the entire number), and are always energetic. They’re also campy enough so that they’re not terribly embarrassing for anyone, and they’re kind of funny even if that’s not your thing.

On the other hand, if you’re here for the darker stuff, the life behind the curtains, then you might be a tad disappointed. The whole downfall storyline is a bit clich├ęd and generic, containing no surprises for anyone who has seen these types of character arcs before. It’s not bad, and you can still get something out of it, but this part has been done better elsewhere, and the only reason it works here is because of the subject matter at hand. Granted, that’s a pretty big element to overlook, and I don’t mean to do that, but looking past the male stripper element, it’s as formulaic as things come.

The story is partially based on star Channing Tatum’s experiences as a stripper before he was an actor. He helped produce the film and also develop the screenplay, and whenever he’s on the screen, you can feel how much he cares about it. He fills his character with energy, he appears completely comfortable with the role, and he’s fully dedicated to everything that he’s asked to do. Tatum’s becoming a better actor with every film, and this one is no exception.

This is also what could turn out to be a very important role in Alex Pettyfer’s career, which might come as a surprise given his previous roles. Here, he shows that he is willing to do pretty much anything for a role, and also shows us that he can have depth to his performance, something that I can’t recall ever seeing from him before. The supporting cast is all as dedicated to the project as the two leads, even if Kevin Nash occasionally did look awkward while up on-stage.

There are a few story elements that don’t quite work out — a strange girl named Nora (Riley Keough) shows up with nothing to do, the awkward beginning, a disappointing finale, some tension between characters that appeared out of nowhere and for no reason — but they’re infrequent enough to not become too bothersome. Most of the plot works well, and is tightly paced enough to always keep things interesting.

I didn’t go into Magic Mike with very high hopes, but after seeing it, I was glad that I did. While it took a while, the film won me over with its energy, its charm, its dedication to the craft, and the wink that every scene gave at the audience. The element of camp keeps things from being too awkward, and while the story is familiar, it’s well-told and enjoyable to sit through. The actors really sell it, and while I can’t necessarily recommend seeing this if you’re not into males, there’s enough here for all persuasions to keep it from being a terrible time.

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