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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Magic Mike


MAGIC MIKE (Two and a Half Stars)

U. S.: Steven Soderbergh, 2012

The art and commerce of striptease — at least as we see it in director Steven Soderbergh and producer-star Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike — is entertainment in a very elemental (let’s not say “stripped down“) form. The performer (female or male) takes off her/his clothes and writhes or dances suggestively. The audience (male or female or both), if they choose, get to holler rude, lewd lines, drink themselves into a stupor and sometimes stuff paper money down the stripper’s pants, panties or bras. In this kind of show, technique is helpful, but not as crucial as looks or stage presence — both of which Tatum must have had in his brief career, in his teens, as a male exotic dancer. The dancing doesn’t have to be particularly good, but it’s best when the dancer has a sense of humor or drama. (I guess Tatum must have had those too.)

“Tease” is an apt word. The audience slaps down cash, like customers at a meat market picking out a thigh or breast, paying to be voyeurs for a night. The next step up, or down, may be prostitution, which sometimes is the next act (in certain venues, in certain places) — but here is only suggested. In any case, what we see often has the smack and bump and grind of truth, not always but some of the time.

The well-upholstered Tatum, who plays Magic Mike, star dancer dude at the raunchy Tampa club Xquisite, is also one of the film‘s producers, and his movie producing partner Reid Carolin also wrote the script (I assume based largely on Tatum’s s memories and research) and plays the part of boyfriend Paul. The plot Tatum and Carolin have come up with loosely resembles All About Eve crossed with Boogie Nights, and (at its worst) Showgirls and Cher and Christina Aguilera’s Burlesque — with male strippers, and mostly without bitchery. Instead, Tatum’s show emphasizes backstage camaraderie among the dancers, including friendly undressers Mike, Paul and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), though I’d hesitate to call it a classic buddy movie.

Maybe it’s a buddy-buddy show bared or, um, deconstructed. Here’s what happens. Tatum as Magic Mike, ab-happy king of the strip hill at Xquisite, befriends college dropout Adam a.k.a. “The Kid” (Alex Pettyfer) on a construction job, introduces him to Xquisite head honcho and strip-savvy mentor Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), and gets him a job at the club — where The Kid’s fresh-young hunk looks and what-am-I-doing-here attitude make him an immediate sensation among the screaming women in the audience. Meanwhile, Magic Mike, who wants to go legit with a custom-made furniture business, also gets a yen for Adam’s sister, sensible Brooke (Cody Horn).

The Kid’s star rises. Things get darker. There’s a lot of sex and nudity, including an orgy with a pig wandering around. (You suspect something like this once happened somewhere.) Dallas wants to take the act to Miami. The club deejay, good-natured chubby Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) peddles Ecstasy on the side. Alex loses a lot of drugs and dough. Hey, stripping isn’t all “woman, money and good times,” as one character puts it. Some mornings you wake up with a pig staring you in the face.

Magic Mike struck me as realistic in its depiction of the whole club milieu (not that I’ve done any research) , but as somewhat phony in its story — though the dialogue is periodically sharp and the acting is much better than usual for this kind of show. (Remember Showgirls?) There’s one knockout performance, by Matthew McConaughey as the affable, energetic and utterly shameless club czar and sometime stripper and costumed cutie (in one dance, he’s dressed as Uncle Sam) Dallas. McConaughey plays it strictly for sleaze and laughs, but he also suggests a real person: a sleazy funny one. A guy who loves the feel of a Lincoln on his scrotum. If the entire movie were as entertaining as McConaughey — or a bit darker than Tatum, Carolin and Soderbergh seem to want to make it — it would have been  better.

Tatum, as mentioned, has the looks and presence for Mike, but not quite the magic. He does a fairly good job, and his onstage backflips are awesome, but I thought he spent too much time seducing the camera and James Deaning it up and getting us to like him, and not enough digging into the guy, and making him real. It’s a very self-conscious “good” performance. Pettyfer does an even more narcissistic job, and I’m not sure the fact that The Kid is supposed to be narcissistic and irresponsible is much of an excuse. Sister Brooke is a typical decent-onlooker part, which she acquits okay. People who like the dancing won’t care all that much about the acting — and that’s probably a good part of what made the movie such an opening weekend hit.

So why did a sometimes brilliant and unpigeonholeable filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh want to make this movie? Well, sex, if not always lies and videotape, has usually worked for him, and it’s always good news when a gifted moviemaker — especially one like Soderbergh, who really takes chances — gets a financial success. Obviously, he likes to work, likes the whole job of making movies. (He also photographed and edited this one.) He likes working with good-looking actors, and Magic Mike allows him to twist around sex roles for men that way Haywire shuffled them around for a woman (Gina Carano). Maybe he liked the music. And maybe he’s always secretly nourished the desire to do a pig-at-the-orgy scene.

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Magic Mike”

  1. Cynthiaj says:

    Paul (Reid Carolan) was not a stripper, he was Brooke’s boyfriend (the one she later threw over).


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon