By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
The word “Magic” may not describe “Mike” as well as it does the 2012 bromance between director Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum, occurring not once but twice (Magic Mike following in close step behind Haywire). And what does a look into the world of male strippers have in common with a mixed martial action/thriller starring Gina Carano? Why Soderbergh and Tatum of course, knocking us out with some very impressive moves both behind and in front of the camera.
Tatum plays Mike, a would-be entrepreneur by day, headliner at a Chippendales-esque all-male revue by night. Other than wowing the crowds of besotted females throwing cash at him as fast as they can during his dance numbers at Tampa, Florida’s “Club Xquisite,” Mike works in construction and car detailing in order to eventually jumpstart his dream career of creating custom furniture. A good-hearted, hardworking guy, when he meets the rootless 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) on a roofing job, Mike ends up taking him under his wing. But Adam isn’t quite as decent as Mike assumes; aside from his cool, smart sister (Cody Horn’s Brooke), Adam comes up short in a myriad of ways.
Don’t expect a musical, even though Soderbergh peppers the film with scintillating lifts from lots of tacky, prop-laden routines delivered by such sexual caricatures as The Fireman, Tarzan, The Hot Latino, et al. (And yes, we will get a routine to “It’s Raining Men.”) Don’t expect a backstage dressing-room drama (especially since the grimy kitchen where the dancers prep and dress is far from a proper backstage). Don’t expect a character drama, or a rom-com. Rather, with a smart script by Reid Carolin, it’s a well-balanced mix of all of the above, lightly connected to a coming-of-middle-age tale starring Mike, who’s on the path to finding his own true north … where the real magic lives.
Soderbergh is at his Soderbergh-ian best, with such idiosyncratic elements as wonderfully creative camera angles (e.g., a character’s POV from a supine position in a vehicle’s back seat as he looks at the driver, his vision partially obstructed by car seats); the odd orangey indoor lighting that he employed in 2009’s The Informant!; and the overlapping, realistic speech bordering on an improv sensibility, hearkening back to 1989’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape. If these last two films are any indication, it seems that the director is bent on discovering deeper, purer truths that express themselves physically, unfettered by words that often mask the underlying intent.
Tatum continues to grow as an actor, reversing the lumpish persona that weighed him down in such dirges as The Vow and Dear John. It’s hard to believe that along with the aforementioned The Vow, Tatum portrays a self-mocking jock in 21 Jump Street, as well as disparate characters in the two Soderbergh movies – and all in the same year. Whether the credit belongs more to the quality of the project, or the actor’s personal learning curve, it’s moot. In this film, we meet Tatum’s Mike, externally flashy in his brilliant, albeit easy athleticism, yet all the while fighting through personal insecurities. The soft-spoken, self-deprecating speech, the too-earnest attempt to win over a female bank officer, the loneliness etched on his face when his black book-esque iPhone yields no late night companions … Tatum’s performance of Mike is magic indeed.
As Tatum is first coming into his own, Matthew McConaughey is having one hell of a second time around. With his two knockout roles at this year’s Cannes (Jeff Nichols’ Mud and Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy), he can add one more colorful character to his ever-growing gallery: The onetime male dancer named Dallas, the leather-clad, cowboy-hatted emcee and club owner. We know this guy; we’ve seen him strutting his carefully-preserved stuff on postage-stamp sized stages in every cow town in Smallville, USA. The smaller the town … the bigger the ego. Oozing with smarmy charm, he works every angle and every underpaid employee, squeezing as much blood out of as many stones as he can. And McConaughey gets him down perfectly, from his faux tan to his poorly-played guitar. Bravo.
Pettyfer as Adam reveals just enough of the manipulator under his clueless nice guy image to keep us fascinated. Playing Adam’s down-to-earth sister Brooke, Horn does a credible job acting as Mike’s conscience and providing a grounding element. It will be interesting to see if this actress is forceful enough to light up the screen in other, stronger roles.
In the meantime, the screen gets plenty of incandescence from Soderbergh’s dancing Kings of Tampa. Hallelujah, it’s raining men.
Rating on a scale of 5 Chippendales off the old block: 4
Release date: June 29, 2012
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay by: Reid Carolin
Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Riley Keough, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias
Running Time: 110 minutes