By way of sleight-of-hand, Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike both is and isn't the freewheeling, fun-loving, male stripper extravaganza its trailers peddle. Running parallel to this flesh game is another of Soderbergh's nuanced looks at contemporary American life, in specific the economic and emotional toll suffered by folks trying to get ahead. Audiences, particularly females, will likely come out for the ab-tastic hijinks, though once they've seen the fuller contours of the film, word of mouth may be a dicier proposition.
Within the film's opening minutes Soderbergh gives the people what they paid for: Channing Tatum's bare behind. Actress Olivia Munn is a topless bonus in a scene set the morning after a three-way romp. (Boom. Done.) From there, the story quickly and efficiently sets Tatum's character, Mike, as a hard-working, self-proclaimed, entrepreneur doing whatever he can to raise money for his dream of launching his own custom furniture line. (This is inspired by Tatum's real-life career beginnings.) Stripping is just a means to an end. After taking a rudderless youngster (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, Mike also shows an interest in his new protégé's sister (Cody Horn).
There is likely no major American filmmaker so tuned in to the intertwined axes of life and work as Soderbergh. In film after film he's explored the way jobs both build up and destroy the contemporary American soul. From the high-end escort in The Girlfriend Experience and the pathological executive in The Informant!, to the laid-off assassin in Haywire and the aspirational male strippers in Magic Mike, absolutely everybody is struggling, hustling and compromising. Even his epidemic/disaster movie Contagion, which begins with a business trip gone wrong, is one big literalization of "taking your work home with you." Considering Soderbergh is not only the director but also (under different pseudonyms) the director of photography and editor of Magic Mike, he may know a thing or two about the difficulty of letting go at work, or as Mike tries to convince someone at one point, "It is what I do, it is not who I am."
For every moment of glamour, sexiness and frivolity, there is another of disappointment, discouragement or just plain hard work. A fantastic view of the ocean also includes a sea of roofing tiles in need of installation and replacement. Matthew McConaughey plays an older stripper who's ascended the ranks and now runs his own club. He's the yardstick of success here, for better or worse. In many ways McConaughey's role is the same as the salon boss in Shampoo, someone who is all too aware of the limits of his world and is now left to nickel-and-dime his way through life. In one of the film's most outrageous moments, Soderbergh frames a shot so that Tatum is delivering lines of dialogue in the background as a penis pump abstractly does it work in the foreground. (Ah Soderberg, you so enjoy revealing the reality behind the fantasy.)
Magic Mike opens with a modified version of a vintage, Saul Bass-designed Warner Brothers logo, placing the story and its spiritual dilemmas into an ongoing continuity. At the end of the film's credits, the production entity name is listed as "The Estate of Redmond Barry," presumably a reference to the birth name of the title character from Barry Lyndon. Mike, like Barry, is at his core a striver, someone trying to better himself and his station in life, even as the world conspires to hold him in his place. If at times it is hard to parse from Soderbergh's prolific output which films are proper, big-time movies and which are in-the-margins sidebars ("They're all for me," he notoriously likes to say), Magic Mike combines those conflicting impulses perhaps more than any of his other films. The flick is a study of modern economic reality and the rationalizations that get us through the day, acknowledging the glamour and the glitter and sweat required to get us there. As Magic Mike himself puts it, "You want some stripper wisdom?"
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum, Olivia Munn, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Reid Carolin
Producers: Nick Wechsler, Gregory Jacobs, Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin
Rating: R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Running Time: 110 min.
Release Date: June 29, 2012
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