Friday, July 27, 2012

Magic Mike (Sunday, July 1, 2012) (62)

Film directors these days seem to trip into genre holes, where they make one kind of movie, either action movies, comedies, dramas, trashy popcorn fare, etc. Steven Soderburgh, on the other, hand makes all sorts of different kinds of movies, and seems to approach the movies he makes these days as experiments in genre analysis, more than just story-telling itself.

Last year he made Contagion, which, although being disappointing, was a contemporary effort at a disaster flick. Earlier this year was Haywire, a very small and totally solid bite-sized action movie. Now he comes out with Magic Mike, a movie that is more about an examination of trashy exploitation fare (something out of the late-'70s and early-'80s) than it is about male strippers. To look only at the beefcake on stage is to miss the point of the movie. This is a send-up of that moment when B-movies went mainstream, the kind of thing you would have seen playing on a loop on some Turner network in the late-'80s and groaned but continued to watch (and now quote to your friends nonstop).

The eponymous Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) is a scrappy young man in Tampa who works as a roofer and handyman during the day and a stripper at night. His boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the entertainment boss of the review show is a bit older and has bigger dreams than just taking over the Gulf coast. Mike seems to have no problems with the women, sleeping with whomever he wants. One day he takes under his wing a younger guy at the construction site, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who is a bit of a lost soul and lives on the couch of his (super hot) older sister, Brooke (Cody Horn).

Mike gets Adam to strip one night and Dallas believes he has the goods to do the work and become part of the troupe. Mike and Adam become best friends, of course, until Adam gets naively involved in side projects like drug deals. Mike has to figure out what his figure is (if it's with Brooke or not) and how he can work with Dallas and Adam going forward.

On its surface, this is a ridiculously stupid movie. There is nothing complicated about the plot and the elements of the narrative (from the guys being construction workers to Brooke being silly hot but unable to connect to guys) seem banal or even forced. Yet Soderbergh is too smart a guy to not know what he's doing. He includes all of these details because this is what the genre dictates. (This reminds me a bit of Verhoeven's Showgirls, a superficially ridiculous movie that recasts All About Eve as a story of strippers in Las Vegas. But there too, a surface look misses the point of what the director is doing. He's mocking the genre and mocking the ridiculous consumerist culture of entertainment and movie-going.) 

Soderbergh is also, of course, very interested in an examination of the genre and how more broadly it can be a Nicholas-Ray-like critique of masculinity in our culture. These men are all perfect physical specimens, of course, but they generally function only a half-level above drooling dogs. The lifestyle that Dallas represents and advocates is empty and impotent in the long run, and Mike has to go through the journey to discover this. Throughout all of this there's the paradox that these super-men are doing a job that's incredibly homoerotic, but makes women get horny. 

For me, this is a really fun and interesting film, partly because it's just silly and sexually interesting and partly because, on a meta level, it's a very harsh criticism of our culture. I love that for most it comes off as not being political in the slightest, just being an easy-to-swallow pill. Soderbergh shows (again) that he's a great actors' director and gets a hell of a performance out of Tatum, that's both multi-faceted and profound. Listing the actors the director has worked with over the years shows that he knows what he's doing on set; watching this movie shows that he's really thinking about a lot of interesting stuff behind the camera as well.

Stars: 3.5 of 4

1 comment: