Sunday, December 23, 2012

Magic Mike

It's not hard to believe that Magic Mike is a semi-autobiographical film based on Channing Tatum's brief career as a Tampa-area stripper in the late-90's, and not just because Tatum has the physique and dance moves of, well, a male stripper.  It's also because Mike Lane, the character he plays in the film, has the same go-go hustle that an actor of as limited abilities as Tatum possesses must also have in order to have turned himself into one of the most interesting film stars of the last 5 years.

Magic Mike, as he is known, is the star attraction of the all-male strip club run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).  Mike, naturally, considers stripping a temporary gig, something to provide him with the sort of money he needs to start his own business. What little thread of a plot there is running through the film involves Lane taking a directionless young man named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing as the latest member of the revue, while simultaneously falling for Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn).

Steven Soderbergh films Florida with a sort of washed-out, sun-dappled color scheme - it doesn't look ugly, per se, but Tampa's limited charms are certainly presented with very little glamour.  The first half of the film is mostly just a character study, as we explore Mike's life through the eyes of Adam, and simultaneously watch Adam discover just how much talent he has, not only for stripping, but for the lifestyle that comes along with selling sex to eager women until the wee hours of the morning.  I couldn't begin to tell you how a wooden actor like Tatum has managed to craft himself into a film star but between this film and 21 Jump Street (which he stole from Jonah Hill) there is simply no getting around the fact that he arrived as a genuine talent in 2012.  McConaughey has gotten most of the awards-season attention (and he is indeed bursting with charm here as the older, retired version of Mike) but Tatum carries the film from start to finish, and his performance is the real revelation.  I was less enamored of both Pettyfer and Horn; Pettyfer does a passable job selling the fairly unlikable Adam, but never really sells the idea that his character has the charisma to replace Mike as the star of the show.  Horn's performance travels from awful to simply mediocre, and the film frankly becomes less interesting once the plot, mostly involving Adam's various fuck-ups and Mike attempting to deal with them while Brooke looks on disapprovingly, begins to intrude on the purer pleasures of the front half.  But with Tatum and Soderbergh's guidance, what could have been "that male stripper movie" proves significantly more captivating than it has any right to be.  B+

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