Combustible Celluloid
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With: Channing Tatum, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, James Martin Kelly, Reid Carolin, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias
Written by: Reid Carolin
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 110
Date: 06/24/2012

Magic Mike (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Strip Breeze

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Steven Soderbergh continues to impress. He's one of the most unpredictable of American directors, capable of being political or pulpy, working on blockbusters or shoestrings. Earlier this year, he made Haywire, an action movie with a kickass girl hero, and now he turns his sights to male strippers with Magic Mike.

Perhaps even more extraordinary than stretching out and working in different styles and genres is the fact that Soderbergh isn't afraid to deal with sex. Sex -- and I'm talking human sexuality, rather than women in tight clothes -- has always been troublesome in Hollywood, but with the economy and the overall atmosphere of fear and panic, it has become even more scarce.

In his career, Soderbergh tackled sex right away with Sex, Lies & Videotape. He created one of the steamiest love scenes of recent years with Out of Sight, directed a segment of a triptych about sex, Eros, and then -- most daringly -- he made The Girlfriend Experience, a low budget story about the life of a call girl, featuring a real-life porn star, Sasha Grey. Overall, Magic Mike is as safe as an actual male stripper; the sex is there for show, but it still acknowledges the existence of female urges and fantasies.

Channing Tatum -- who also appeared in Haywire -- stars as Magic Mike. He's a popular, Tampa, FL, stripper with some great moves, but his dream is to make furniture, so he works extra jobs trying to save money. On a construction job, he meets a green kid, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who winds up going to a club with him. By the end of the night, Adam has been pushed out on stage and performed his first striptease.

Some of the plot elements are fairly familiar after that. Adam grows more and more arrogant, begins to enjoy his fame a bit too much, and becomes involved with drugs. He loses a huge stash of drugs and owes some thugs a large chunk of change. He also threatens the older Mike, who wants a behind-the-scenes percentage of a new strip club that the owner, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), hopes to open in Miami.

What's more, Adam has a cute sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), whom Mike takes a shine to. But she sees him as a bad influence on her brother, so it's an uphill battle. The beautiful Olivia Munn co-stars as a girl that Mike likes, but she refuses to see him as anything more than a sex object. However, despite all these old chestnuts, Soderbergh turns in a fresh film. He's less interested in hitting the plot points as he is exploring the spaces between.

His skills as a cinematographer are apparent as well: he captures an open-air feel and uses warm colors to create a sense of temperature; these establish a loose and organic tone. You can almost smell the warm air coming in through the windows, as well as the sweat of the clubs and parties. It feels like the story is unfolding in a real space and not a vacuum-sealed Hollywood set.

Tatum thrives in an environment like this. It's most gratifying to see him evolve from a glowering thug to a warm, funny presence, capable of living in the moment. Just a year ago, I had written him off, and now he seems poised on the verge of being a great new star. Likewise, McConaughey -- who was a joke a few years ago -- has happily turned back into a character actor, playing offbeat Texans rather than vapid leading men. His performances here and in the recent Bernie have put him back on the map. As for the younger actors, Munn has a lot of charisma, Horn could be promising, and as Adam, Pettyfer projects just the right amount of arrogance.

Magic Mike certainly isn't a great film, but it has a most welcome amount of life in a summer that's all about marketing and trying to please the audience. The only downside is that Soderbergh announced his "retirement" recently, and though it's unclear as to what that's going to entail, it would be a huge shame if films this good were to disappear from multiplexes.

In October of 2012, Warner Home Video released a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack with an optional digital copy. Picture and sound quality are outstanding, especially the much-applauded dance sequences, but extras are slim. Notably missing is a commentary track by director Soderbergh, who has recorded some of the best in the business. There's a skimpy, studio-made "behind-the-scenes" featurette, some extended dance scenes, and a selection that allows viewers to play all the dance scenes back-to-back.

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