Reviews

Zen and the Art of Male Stripping: 'Magic Mike'

Channing Tatum is dynamic on stage. Often, his dancing transcends the butt jiggling and crotch thrusting of his peers. Alex Pettyfur is unremarkable both on stage and off. Matt McConaughey strikes the perfect balance between smarmy and charming.


Magic Mike

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn
Distributor: Warner
Rated: R
Release date: 2012-10-23

Magic Mike is not just a movie about second-rate male strippers. It pays homage to films like American Gigolo and Shampoo. These were movies about the art of seduction. The leads were handsome and relied on charisma more than intelligence to make a living. Even the visual aesthetic of Magic Mike has a late '70s, early '80s feel. This was a time of excess and instant gratification, before sex became clinical and dangerous. It’s a fantasy world both for the women who pay a $20 cover to catch a glimpse, and the men who reside within its boundaries. Ultimately, it’s about the emptiness of a hedonistic lifestyle where there is no such thing as loyalty or intimacy.

“Magic Mike” (Channing Tatum) is a hustler. He calls himself an “entrepreneur”, but he works as a day laborer and car detailer. His primary source of income is stripping. However, his dream is to start his own business making custom furniture. Mike’s unable to secure a small business loan for the start-up costs, because he has no credit history; one of the downsides of working for cash. The closest thing he has to a girlfriend is a psychology student, Joanna (Olivia Munn), with whom his relationship his strictly sexual. It becomes obvious that Mike is looking for more from that relationship.

Mike meets Adam “the kid” (Alex Pettyfer) on a construction job and takes the aimless youth under his wing. Mike gets the cash-strapped Adam a job for the night at a male strip club where he works called Xquisite. This establishment is owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), an older version of his Dazed and Confused character David Wooderson, who also serves as the emcee. Dallas has big plans for his seedy little club. He envisions his dance troupe going global, starting with a new hot spot in Miami. Even Mike, who is at the top of his game, realizes he needs to have a back-up plan in place if he wants financial stability. Dallas strings him along with promises of equity.

When a dancer is unable to perform at the last minute, Adam is thrust on to stage. Even though his footwork is less than impressive, McConaughey sees potential, and hires Adam as a dancer. At a dance rehearsal the next day, Dallas works to teach an ex-dimwitted football player how to beguile women out of their cash, “You don’t just fucking throw your clothes off. You fucking make it count, baby,” Dallas says. “You walk out. You own it. You look around. You tease. You seduce. Clock eyes, but don’t lock in on any of them.” Dallas uses the mirror in the dance studio as the audience. He’s writhing and rotating his pelvis; buying into his own line of bullshit:

"You see, baby, you’re not just stripping. You are fulfilling every woman’s wildest fantasies. All right? You are the husband that they never had. You are that dreamboat guy that never came along. You are the one-night stand, that free fling of a fuck… they get to have, tonight, with you on-stage, and still go home to their hubby and not get in trouble… because you, baby, you made it legal. You are the liberation."

Adam doesn’t have much going on upstairs, but he's lucky enough to live with his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), whose feet are firmly planted in reality. She doesn’t exactly approve of her brother’s new job, and she tasks Mike with the job of looking out for the nineteen year old. Unable to act as a moral compass to her brother, she does leave an impression on Mike. He quickly realizes that she’s seen behind the curtain and knows there is no wizard. She’s not easily swayed, manipulated or seduced by Mike’s surface charm. She sees in him what he has already started to suspect himself. “You are a bullshit 30-year-old male stripper.”

Adam is drawn deeper into the perks of the business. Lured by the prospect of even more easy money, he decides to start distributing the drug ecstasy with the help of Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) the club’s resident DJ and a small-time dealer. He takes his entire stash to a private party he and Mike are working at a sorority house. After slipping one of the girls a tablet, she tells her boyfriend. A fight breaks out, forcing Mike and Adam to flee the sorority house. Adam tells Mike they have to go back, because he left his bag behind and it contains his entire stash. Not realizing the propensity of drugs Adam is trying to unload, he tells Adam to forget it and just eat the cost himself.

It turns out that while Mike’s back was turned, Adam has gotten in way over his head. Not only does he bail Adam out financially, the sorority debacle puts Mike at odds with Dallas. Turns out Dallas quickly changes from a fun-loving Dr. Jekyll to a hard-edged Mr. Hyde when his money or reputation is at stake. In the midst of a confrontation with Mike, Dallas says, “Hey, you might want to check yourself old friend. Nobody walks on water on my team.” Mike responds, “Except for you, right?” Mike standing toe-to-toe with his mentor starts to realize the only attachment Dallas has for him is the same that a pimp has for a hooker, “You are worth the cash you pry out of their fucking purses.”

Channing Tatum is dynamic on stage. Often, his dancing transcends the butt jiggling and crotch thrusting of his peers. Alex Pettyfur is unremarkable both on stage and off. Matt McConaughey strikes the perfect balance between smarmy and charming. He struts around in his bathrobe like the poor man’s Hugh Hefner.

The special features include Behind the Scenes: Backstage on Magic Mike, which explores how the actors learned to overcome their fears and inhibitions and acquire the skills to transform into believable strippers. Viewers also learn director Steven Soderbergh developed Magic Mike based on a period of time in Channing Tatum’s life when did a brief stint as a male dancer. Tatum also worked as a producer on the film. For the viewers who are more interested in the dance routines than the dialogue, there is a Dance Play Mode that enables them to watch every dance routine back to back.

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