Thursday, April 11, 2013

Short Take: Magic Mike

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The story in Magic Mike, directed by Steven Soderbergh from a script credited to Reid Carolin, is a rather bland letdown. But the incidentals are terrifically entertaining, and they more than make up for other disappointments. Channing Tatum plays the title character, a 30-year-old stripper with talents and ambitions that go far beyond his performances at a Florida strip club. As the film begins, he takes an aimless 19-year-old (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, introducing the fellow to the sex-drugs-and-party life of him and his fellow dancers. He also meets and falls for the fellow’s straight-arrow sister (Cody Horn), whose reservations about his lifestyle lead him to doubt the path he’s chosen. Soderbergh and the actors capably dramatize this scenario, but they cannot get out from under the pat sanctimony. The picture wakes up from its drearily familiar story in the strip-club dance sequences, choreographed with considerable flair by Alison Faulk. These epitomize the humor and sexed-up charge of burlesque routines, and they are a great deal of fun. They are surpassed only by the supporting performance of Matthew McConaughey, who plays the owner (and an occasional dancer) at the club. McConaughey is a flamboyant delight, capturing in one moment the cocky, witty naughtiness of a seasoned burlesque dancer, and in another the hard-nosed sleaziness of a man driven to earn money under any circumstances. This electrifying performance is perhaps the best of McConaughey’s career, and Soderbergh’s smartest move is to never keep him off-stage for too long. Soderbergh also does excellent work in behind-the-scenes artisan roles. Under the pseudonym of "Mary Ann Bernard," he provided the first-rate editing, and under the nom-de-plume of "Peter Andrews," he was responsible for the elegant cinematography. The cast also includes Olivia Munn and Matt Bomer.

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