If you need him, Chief Justice Michael Stailey will be at the bar watching the game.
"Everybody sit down, we're gonna be here for a while!"
Steven Soderbergh has made it abundantly clear he is closing the book on his filmmaking career. Given what we see in Magic Mike, that might not be such a bad idea. When a talented artist begins to repeat himself, it's time to change mediums.
Facts of the Case
Construction worker. Stripper. Aspiring furniture maker. Entrepreneur. Mike Martingano (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street) is a 30 year old Tampa resident who has the world by its satin g-string covered balls. He's at the top of his game, with his eyes on the prize, raising enough cash to convince the bank he's right for a small business loan that would make his dream of producing high end custom furniture come true. Just one problem…Nineteen year old Adam, aka "The Kid" (Alex Pettyfer, Beastly), stumbles into his life as the little brother he never had. The two become fast friends, ushering Adam into Mike's perfect life, only to see it come unglued and exposed for what it truly is.
Ever been in a strip club when the lights came on? It's not a pretty site. And that's ultimately what Steven Soderbergh is trying to show us. Behind all the glitz and faux glamour, this is a seedy business for seedy people, feeding the base urges of the human species. In this case, it's men stripping for women, the reverse of what Hollywood often shows us. What's more, this story is coming to us from someone who lived it for real…Channing Tatum. After screwing up a college football scholarship (much like the character of Adam), Tatum dropped out of school in West Virginia and returned to Tampa, taking odd jobs and stripping for cash. He wasn't down on his luck too long though; cast as a dancer in Ricky Martin's video for "She Bangs," modeling for A+F, booking national TV commercials, and capturing Hollywood's attention with his role in Step Up. Since then, the actor turned producer has made increasingly smart career moves, not the least of which was partnering with friend Reid Carolin (Stop-Loss) to form 33andOut Productions and setting themselves up as a creative team to keep an eye on.
Carolin wrote the screenplay for Magic Mike, based on some of Tatum's exotic dancing experiences, and Soderbergh's desire to make a movie about it (something they discussed at length on the set of Haywire). Though Warner Bros. touted the film as a showcase for some of Hollywood's hottest men baring all, it really turns out to be yet another patented Soderbergh character study. There's nothing wholly original going on here. The wise veteran gets unwillingly partnered with an untamed rookie, the two feeding off each other's energy and making things happen. The veteran, who up to this point has played fast and loose with his female partners, suddenly gains a conscience and falls for the rookie's protective sister (Cody Horn, daughter of Disney Studios Chief Alan Horn), causing him to question his master plan. Of course, the party boys can only fly so far before their glorious lifestyle comes crashing down around them, the veteran saving the life of the rookie, and in doing so realizes his dream is only a paper-thin facade for an otherwise shallow and meaningless life. But in the sister he finds the redemption he's looking for and the two live happily ever after.
I hope I didn't ruin that for everyone. It's not like we haven't seen this story before. Then again, we haven't seen Soderbergh's take on it, which is colorized to the hilt (ala Traffic), showering Tampa is a sea of yellow and gold, and making Dallas' (Matthew McConaughey, The Lincoln Lawyer) strip club look like one of Danny Ocean's casino haunts. In the end, Magic Mike is an enjoyable two hour diversion, not at all the painful viewing experience I was expecting, nor the hot guy sausage-fest I was dreading.
Soderbergh continues to play to his strengths, which is constructing and deconstructing flawed human beings and their inevitable relationships with other flawed human beings. Sometimes it feels wholly organic—such as in each of Tatum's scenes with the scenery chewing McConaughey—while other times it's downright painful (see: any scene with Cody Horn). Tatum is the main draw, and deservedly so. He continues to cement himself as an authentic A-list actor, displaying a gift for delivering realistic and compelling dialogue, while lighting up the screen with his endless supply of mind-bending dance moves. Pettyfer, on the other hand, is as wooden and one-dimensional as ever. His bewildered come cocky Adam deviates little from his John Smith in I Am Number Four. Look! I'm conflicted and angry. Look! I'm horny. Look! I'm overdosing on drugs. After a while, it gets to be draining. Providing colorful albeit fleeting background to Tatum and Pettyfer are pretty boy Matt Bomer (White Collar), latin lover Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami), rugged elder Joe Manganiello (True Blood), past-his-prime Kevin Nash (Rock of Ages), drug dealing DJ Gabriel Iglesias (Gabriel Iglesias: I'm Not Fat… I'm Fluffy), and Mike's friend with benefits Olivia Munn (The Babymakers). Iglesias is the only one who gets to show any sort of range, and even then it's not a full character arc. Still, for a stand up comedian, he proves his dramatic chops in a couple brief scenes.
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p high definition, this digitally captured film shows a surprising spectrum of visual fidelity, from the saturated heat and humidity of Florida's gulf coast to the gritty experiences the boys partake in both on an off stage. The low light scenes are incredibly diffused, lacking the clarity we've become accustomed to in HD. Then again, how much detail do you really want or need when it comes to McConaughey playing his bongos or shaking his thong-clad booty. Now's as good a time as any to let people know there is plenty of maleness on display, sporting very little clothing, and only attempting to go the "Full Monty" in one scene early on, but even then artistically obscuring what your brain will interpret on its own. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is in full on club mode, pounding out an LFE bass beat that will reverberate throughout your home and surely annoy the neighbors. Music becomes a key player, punctuating the film's dance sequences with Martha Wash's "It's Raining Men," Big & Rich's "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)," and KISS' "Calling Dr. Love," while rounding out the picture with a more subtle underscore from composer Jack Rayner.
If you're looking for bonus features, nothing but disappointment to be found here. There's a Dance Play Mode which allows us to skip the narrative and boils the film down to 20 minutes in a strip club. The highly touted "Extended Dance Scenes" amounts to little more than nine minutes of additional footage, featuring Manganiello as Michelangelo's David dry-humping a table, Bomer as Malibu Ken private dancing for a bride-to-be, and Rodiguez on shore leave disposing of his Navy Whites. We also get one fluffy little EPK behind-the-scenes featurette, "Backstage on Magic Mike," talking about the choreography, the nakedness, and the guys uncomfortableness with both. For such a personal story, you'd think Channing Tatum would have much more to say. Apparently not. I also find it funny how willing Soderbergh is to do commentaries for other director's films rather than his own.
Channing Tatum continues to be a compelling onscreen presence; actor, dancer, comedian, and filmmaker. At only 32 years of age, with a good head on his shoulders and a respectable creative drive, we are likely to see this man challenge himself to become a respected storyteller. And I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he succeeds. In the meantime, you're free to enjoy Magic Mike, and you don't even have to bring dollar bills.
Not Guilty. Enjoy the show and remember to tip your waitresses.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Dance Play Mode
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