- POSTED ON Saturday, September 12, 2020
The ooh-la-la premise of “Magic Mike”--the backstage life of male strippers--is easy to dismiss. If not to dismiss definitely a project that could go wrong. Look at Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls”: skilled director, shallow material.
But “Magic Mike” (watch free with ip locations org) is not a movie that solely admires the waist-up and, occasionally, the waist-down of its scantily clad males. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Magic Mike” focuses on the most important body: story. The film hones in on what these characters feel more than their good looks. Soderbergh assumes the unfolding events with a fluent style and improvisational acting, in lieu of mechanical pacing and stilted delivery. Every character here has a purpose other than to flex their muscles, though they do.
The setting is Tampa, Florida, where “Magic Mike” basks in beachside villas and extravagant clubs. Soderbergh sticks to his usual brownish hue to tan the exotic environment. This creates a slick 1980s texture of the “Grand Theft Auto” and “Miami Vice” ilk. The story is essentially a cautionary tale on fame and the inherent degrading quality of stripping for entertainment. No matter how fun it is to watch, the dancer’s integrity is always on the line.
This statement makes “Magic Mike” a very interesting film and a lot better than its cliché trailer suggests. Soderbergh could have reduced this to a love story, in order to harness a safe and explicit core. But “Magic Mike”is beyond high-concept romance; it is not really until the end that love takes a front seat. The movie pays close attention to its several characters and demands the audience’s attention and sympathy. You will have to get lost in more than just Mike’s eyes.
Tatum, has made a year for himself with this, “21 Jump Street,” “The Vow,” and Soderbergh’s girl power movie “Haywire.” Unlike “Haywire,” “Magic Mike” is not an exercise for Soderbergh to muck around with camera angles and color filters. Comparison, instead, can be drawn to Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful “Boogie Nights” with the way Soderbergh is ravished by the rush of fame, fortune, and nightlife – and the tight-knit groups that form within.
The glamor is first witnessed by Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a pretty-boy who recently moved to Tampa to live with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn). He is the fish-out-of-water, who holds a dewey-eyed fascination in this place. Adam meets Mike at his construction job; Mike introduces Adam to where he moonlights--it’s a club called Xquisite, where Mike, well, strips with his troupe: Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello).
This night unfolds in a great set piece. Adam roams the club, flirts with a shy birthday girl, and earns a spot at the center stage of the hardheaded Dallas’s (Matthew McConaughey) male strip show. Soderbergh captures this moment perfectly: the rush and spontaneity of mixing in with the crowd, losing yourself in the atmosphere as time and space intoxicatingly fleet.
Soderbergh showcases the strip shows, but all the set pieces represent a certain development in the story. As the show goes on, there’s an odd sense of melancholy. This might be due to Mike’s underlying journey, involving a noble quest to break out of male stripping and run a custom furniture business. There’s a strong scene between Mike and a banker (“Breaking Bad”’s Betsy Brandt) where we witness a side to Mike that doesn’t come with the chaps.
Soderbergh’s intentions are clear: he wants to take a sensationalized world and thrust it (sometimes literally) into an absorbing human cautionary tale – and so it is. While the film’s arc rings out a familiar tune of this genre’s themes, Soderbergh, also cinematographer, fills the frame with substance. He isn’t trying to break new ground, but his liberal tendencies as a filmmaker terrifically cradles a premise of such flash.
Tatum is next to star in what Soderbergh professes to be his penultimate piece, “The Bitter Pill.” It is clear the director trusts this actor. Here, Tatum is, well...pretty good. He demonstrates an adequate blend of pride and vulnerability, subverting his conventional heroic roles.
Also, Mike’s affection with Adam’s sister is really a side note, complimenting the film’s deeper core. The core is in Mike himself, whose character arc embodies the film’s message: money can’t buy you love. See? I told you it was a familiar tune. Luckily, the virtues here are all in the execution.
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