Friday, 3 August 2012

Magic Mike

2012. Dir: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Cody Horn and Matthew McConaughey. ●●●●○

I've been terribly lazy over recent weeks. That's not quite true, after a long period of unemployment I managed to find work, whilst at the some time performing in a fringe show so I haven't really had the time to write up reviews. That's a shame as I've seen two films that definitely deserve talking about. First up is Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike a film that should be utterly disposable and vicariously pleasurable, and yet behind the façade of male stripping excess there's a curious and vital film about Western attitudes to money and the relentless pursuit of it.

Channing Tatum stars as a thinly veiled version of himself - as the press notes were proud to exhort Tatum spent 8 months as a stripper before hitting it big in acting - the eponymous Mike, the star attraction at Matthew McConaughey's revue show. Not only is Tatum a dedicated performer, out in the town prior to his gigs drumming up interest with the hen parties and birthday girls, but he also has a interesting work ethic, taking day jobs as a roofer and making custom furniture (his major ambition). Whilst roofing he bumps into a confused kid, Alex Pettyfer, desperate for cash but without Tatum's obvious ambition. Mike see's something in his demeanour and takes him along to the club and before you know it "The Kid" is making his stage debut, awkward, ungainly and with all the presence of a brick he still manages to produce the screaming from the excited crowd that forces McConaughey's Dallas to let him into the troupe.

From here the plot could only go one of two ways, "Star is Born" or "All About Eve" and without giving too much away whichever story it is Tatum's future in the stripping business does not look good. Luckily he does have The Kid's sister, bland blonde Cody Horn as the friend/love interest that might just become his saviour.

Tatum does a great job as himself, the more films I see him in the more I enjoy his lunky presence, and here he is able to mix the confidence in his ability and sexuality with a hint of fragility when dealing Horn. There's one stand out scene later in the film where Tatum is trying to explain how he feels, seemingly improvised he stutters and meanders through the dialogue and all at once the audience want to reahc out to him in a far less sexual way than previous reactions.

McConaughey steals every scene he's in, Machiavellian and mischievous his Texan drawl seductively addresses the throngs of women, as he warns the punters of the house rules, you can almost feel him dare us to break them. His silver tongued compere is a modern update of Joel Grey's Cabaret performance, complete with his own streak of ruthless intent. Pettyfer is fine in an underwritten role, his arc merely existing to push forward Tatum's. Unfortunately the cast is let down by Horn who gives one of the least expressive performances of the year.

Whilst the show scenes are surprisingly unexplicit - perhaps partly down to the nature of male revues with their aim to titillate rather than turn-on the audience - there is a pleasing structure and narrative to the dances. Tatum for instance is centre stage, his obvious ability on the podium is exploited both by Soderbergh's camera and Dallas's staging, but as you move further back through the pack of strippers, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello and Kevin Nash there's a clear depredation of choreography and talent. Whilst Tatum bodypop in the foregound it's hilarious to watch pro-wrestler Nash as the bulky Tarzan barely able to move his arms in time to camp classic "It's Raining Men".

Aside from the dance numbers it's the attitudes to money that stick in the mind, Tatum works hard and considers every choice he's making and how that will affect his future business plans, Pettyfer is more about today, blowing his earnings on a drug-happy party lifestyle and McConaughey is slyly working the margins, ensuring he always ends up on top. There's a pre-occupation with cash that drives these guys to do what they do, which gives them the feeling their masters of their own destinies rather than exploited slabs of meat that will one day find the income has dried up. There's a fascinating beach scene which sums up the dancers ambitions, nicely reflected in the third act where Tatum must finally choose his destiny.

Soderbergh brings a unique sensibility to this movie, once again proving he can balance an exploitative genre with a art-house feel and whilst this doesn't quite hit the devastating highs of his previous sex industry expose, The Girlfriend Experience, it makes a fine counterpoint and I very highly recommend the picture.

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