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Monday, July 23, 2012

Magic Mike

Loads of new movies came out this past weekend so lets get started with a male stripping movie by Steven Soderbergh because, really, where else is there to start?

As neither a straight woman nor a gay man, I am decidedly not the target audience of Magic Mike. This isn't a male stripper movie like The Full Monty where the stripping is just a backdrop for a very male-oriented buddy movie. Magic Mike spends about a third of its running time focusing purely on a bunch of insanely buff blokes getting their kit off and the rest of the film is really just a backdrop for the stripping. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I feel a bit out of my depth here. 

As such, I highly recommend checking out this all-girl roundtable review of the film over at Channel 24 for a lively, funny take on the film by people to whom it is actually aimed. What's weird though, is that however little the many many pounds of manly flesh may do it for you, so to speak, I don't think there's anyone in the world who would deny that by far the best thing about Magic Mike is the stripping itself.

Quite unlike the typically sleazy portrayals of female stripping in cinema (Showgirls anyone?), Magic Mike's strip scenes play out like elaborate musical numbers that just happen to involve a bunch of insanely buff blokes getting their kit off! Though, of course, their, um, interactions with the women in the audience does bring the whole thing back into an area that's every bit as sexual as female strip shows, just in a totally different way, but that only enhances the sheer theatricality of these scenes.

The result therefore is that these scenes offer Soderbergh the greatest opportunity to let loose in the film. Every single one of the film's many strip teases are filled with a highly energetic and unabashedly ridiculous sense of fun that they entirely overshadow anything else in the film. Indeed, regardless of your sexual persuasion, they are the only real reason I recommend seeing the film because, honestly, the rest of it kind of sucks. 

The story of a young guy getting caught up in the traps of showbiz is hardly a new one, nor is the one of the more experienced stripper wanting to use the money he makes to open up his own business. Still, that the film is obviously generic is not a problem in and of itself - it's that it steadfastly refuses to do anything at all interesting with these generic conventions. The characters are beyond bland, the story plays out with absolutely none of the bonkers energy that make the strip-club scenes such fun and it is far too emotionally empty to make either of the previous problems even remotely forgiveable. 

The actors and the director clearly throw everything they have into the stripping scenes that they have nothing left for the rest of the film - and boy, does it show. Channing Tatum is improving as an actor, its true, and Matthew McConaughey has seldom been better as the uber-slimey owner of the strip club but the rest of the cast range from forgettable to fairly awful. As for Soderbergh's direction, his "verite" style of shooting the non-stripping scenes is completely at odds with the pop-video feel of everything that takes place in the strip club and tries to give these scenes a sense of grit and weight that they absolutely do not earn. 

There's no way I can truly recommend a film this flawed but if you're looking for a male stripper movie that is actually about male stripping then this is totally the movie for you. It certainly doesn't work on any other level.


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