One day when I was off from work I gave myself 3 options to restore my faith in films: People Like Us, Ted, and Magic Mike. People Like Us, the Chris Pine movie, interested me because the last movie I saw him in, This Means War, was so fucking awful that I felt sure he would bring his A game to his next role. Unfortunately, the film has been given extremely mediocre reviews thus far which suggests that his uninspired performance in This Means War is the rule and not the exception to his acting ability. Ted was in the running because I love Seth Macfarlane, Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis and knew that they would come up with something great together. The reviews were good, but it looked a little too much like an extended episode of “Family Guy,” what with the voice of the bear being the same as Peter. When I first saw a trailer for Magic Mike, it looked like another mediocre dance flick with a flimsy plot and poor character development. Then I started reading the reviews. People, smart people, were excited by this movie (and not in the way that you would think). That left it as the best and only choice for me. Still, I took it all with a grain of salt.
Sitting down in my theater seat, looking out around the clusters of women looking to get their rocks off that Tuesday afternoon, my hopes weren’t high. But that is how I usually am with movies. Unless it’s a director that I deeply respect (Scorsese, Nolan), my stance is always “Guilty until proven Innocent”. Every element of the film has to convince me it’s sending the message that it intends. I didn’t need much convincing with this film. As soon as Tatum was off the stage, the real film started.
In many ways Magic Mike follows a very classic storyline. An innocent (Alex Pettyfer) meets an experienced stripper (Channing Tatum) who introduces him to the glamorous and seductive world of male exotic dancing. The beginning sets up Mike and his entourage of slick and cocky (pun intended) fellow dancers as kings of their profession. They do what they do so well that beautiful girls with loaded wallets come in droves every night to shower them in crinkled sweaty money. For Adam, the innocent affectionately and again classically called “The Kid” this world of quick money and hot women is instantly attractive. He begins his own trajectory path to stardom in hopes of catching up to the one and only Magic Mike. Mike himself is 30 years old (which qualifies him for a cane and a Denny’s discount according to world of the film) and has been stripping at The Xquisite Male Dance Review for 6 years. He has begun plans for his future beyond dancing, but is having trouble getting a loan to fund his custom furniture business. You would think at least his love life would be on track, but no. Even though Mike makes Taylor Lautner look like those genetically engineered wolves at the end of the Hunger Games, he has an empty relationship with a flighty psychology student (Olivia Munn) and can’t make Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horm) see past his hot pink thong. Oh what’s a living God to do?
Some of the film’s most poignant moments come from scenes that show how Mike clearly does not have it all. He’s flawed, but he doesn’t know it until he starts to pull away from this world where onstage he is considered perfect. The film is about him exiting this comfort zone; the two steps forward and three steps back aspect of his change is really engaging.
If the dancer’s names are supposed to reflect their stripper alter egos, McConahey’s Dallas embodies his the best. McConahey’s image is already that of a southern cowboy. As Dallas, he’s basically a sexy Yosemite Sam on Ecstacy. He’s loud, sweaty, shirtless and so handsy you’d think the cast would have filed John Travolta-esque lawsuits against him by now. Dallas is all greed, seedy ambition and lack of moral center. He is the soulless, empty and deeply flawed end result of indulging in all of the vices lurking ominously in the exotic dancing world. He’s who Mike will become if he does not pull away from this lifestyle. He’s who Adam will become if he continues to be corrupted. The difference between Dallas and these two is that while Mike and Adam at least have a passing acquaintance with what’s right, Dallas is virtually morally bankrupt and wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s a real asshole, emphasis on the real. McConahey gives such a convincing performance that you wonder whether he’s acting or if he manages a few boys on the side in real life. I do question the filmmakers on one thing though. Get this: McConahey doesn’t strip for the whole movie and then close to the end when we already dislike him, they put him on stage in the cheesiest strip number ever. It consists of him doing vaguely Saturday Night Fever poses to some corny 80s rock. It’s supposed to be a huge finale performance, but it was sadly anti-climatic. McConahey may be hot, but he’s in a movie with Tatum, Manganiello and Bomer. C’mon now.
Channing Tatum owes Steven Soderbergh a debt of gratitude for writing this part for him because this movie will undoubtedly make him a legitimate star. Now that everyone knows that he can really act, he can leave the campy romances behind (for Zack Efron to shamefully collect) and start doing more serious dramas. Or comedies. He really has a gift for both. Tatum is able to tell stories that no other actor today can tell as authentically. His niche is that of a street tough guy with vulnerability and he’s very believable in this role. The authenticity of his performance, as well as the relaxed and seemingly unchoreographed film making style, drives the film to that meaty standard of real drama that I had been looking for. The phrase more than a pretty face never seemed so apt.