THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Magic Mike - Own it on Blu-Ray combo pack, DVD, or digital download Oct. 23.
When it was released last summer, it seemed as though every woman I spoke to was super-excited about the release of Magic Mike. While talking to several highly enthusiastic women, I couldn't help but chuckle. They asked what was so funny. “You all think you're going to be seeing a two-hour Channing Tatum-getting-naked movie,” I said, “but in reality, you're going to get an arty Steven Soderbergh film.” It wasn't my intention to be condescending; I honestly believed that, given Soderbergh's overall body of work, Magic Mike wasn't going to be entirely breezy and carefree. But you know what? The real beauty of this movie is that it is fun and it does have depth to it. This is Soderbergh working somewhere in between the Ocean's pictures and Sex, Lies & Videotape.
Tatum plays the title character, a male stripper who loves his job. It affords him a decent wage and the attention of adoring women. Mike serves as mentor to an acquaintance, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who is in need of some fast cash and sees that stripping will provide it. Under the watchful eye of club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), Adam learns the art of on-stage seduction. Meanwhile, Mike strikes up a flirtation with Adam's sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), who doesn't take kindly to her brother's new vocation. Stripping seems good for a time, but as Adam becomes increasingly more invested in it, Mike starts to see how the lifestyle looks from the outside and subsequently re-evaluates his choices.
Magic Mike is not necessarily a plot-driven movie. It's more of a “fly on the wall” type of picture, allowing us to observe these characters in their environment. Now that I think about it, the film is in some ways akin to a nature documentary, except that instead of animals, we're following male strippers. Drugs and sex are expected elements of their existence, but Soderberg and writer Reid Carolin also examine the idea of sexual power as currency. Mike is the master of this. He knows how to dance in order to drive female club patrons crazy, thereby loosening their pocketbooks. This gives him a level of influence. Adam, who initially views himself as a bit of a loser, wants that power. Magic Mike is unexpectedly astute in depicting how this currency is traded, earned, and lost.
On a lighter level, the movie is filled with humor, much of it coming from the awkward situations Mike and the others find themselves in. (A private show at a sorority house is especially funny.) The dancing sequences are often humorous, as well, and they're staged with such energy and dazzling choreography that it hardly matters whether you're into male strippers or not. Magic Mike boasts strong performances, too. The script is based on Channing Tatum's own brief stint as a stripper, and he feels right at home with the material. Between this and his hilarious turn in 21 Jump Street, 2012 has been the year that he's really transcended the stereotype many people – myself included – had of him. Tatum is fantastic here, nailing both the comedic and the dramatic moments. The best supporting performance comes from McConaughey, who makes Dallas simultaneously a little wacky and a little menacing. He got lost in his career for a while, making too many dopey romantic-comedies, often with the likes of Kate Hudson. Now he's back in a big way. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed McConaughey onscreen so much.
Magic Mike will be enjoyed by women who just want to see Channing Tatum and some equally-built guys take off their clothes. More importantly, it will also be enjoyed by women and men who are looking for a substantive, entertaining peek inside a world few of us ever see. Steven Soderbergh has made a movie that works as both intimate character study and party film. And that is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
( 1/2 out of four)
Magic Mike arrives onto Blu-Ray combo pack, DVD, and digital download October 23.
The bonus features are surprisingly minimal. The most notable is “Behind the Scenes: Backstage on Magic Mike,” a six-minute making-of feature that is enjoyable, although obviously fairly short. The actors talk most about the challenges of learning choreography and taking their clothes off in front of female extras.
You can also access extended versions of several dance numbers from the movie, or opt for “Dance Play Mode,” which presents all the movie's stripping sequences back-to-back.
An UltraViolet copy of the film is included in the pack.
Magic Mike is rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!