Friday, June 29, 2012

Magic Mike (2012)

The job of both male and female stripping has been an occupation that hasn't had sufficient exploration or showcasing on the big screen. And yes, I'm even saying that in the context with correlation to the fact that the infamous film "Showgirls" happened nearly twenty years ago. However now, both the nature and lifestyle of male stripping has finally been brought to the mainstream big screen with Steven Soderbergh's latest film "Magic Mike," which itself is partly based off of lead star Channing Tatum's experiences as a stripper in Tampa, Florida during his late teenage years. Tatum's acting has gradually impressed me as the year has progressed, so he along with the rest of the cast and crew had a considerable amount of hype built up to see if a movie about male strippers can appeal to the various cinema-going crowds of this generation. Did it at least live up to my expectations? Hit the jump to find out if it did!

Michael "Magic Mike" Lane (Channing Tatum) is living the high life as a male stripper for the Xquisite Strip Club, which is owned by charismatic former male stripper Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). He has access to the best parties in town, can pick up just about any girl he wants, and makes a decent amount of money for his moves on stage. However, Mike is using his job as the main gateway to achieve a separate goal of opening his own furniture business. During the period of one summer, he recruits a 19 year-old named Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and gradually teaches him the trade of becoming one of the best new male strippers of the group at the club. This recruitment soon leads to an encounter with Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn), which leads to Mike attempting to sort out his life for which direction he should choose to embark on for the long-term path.

Years ago, I was one of potentially thousands of people that were haters of Channing Tatum, because he could never show his potential as a serious actor. Surprisingly though, this year has produced several instances where his acting has actually broadened to new ranges I could've never imagined him conquering at some point in his career. Whether it was playing low-key subtlety in Soderbergh's previous film "Haywire," or showing his surprising comedic chops with Jonah Hill in "21 Jump Street," Tatum has proven that he's achieved both the acting talent and on-screen charisma to be one of the better young actors in Hollywood today. And in the title role, Tatum delivers the best performance of his acting career so far. Not only is he brilliant in the scenes where he performs his stripping routines, but his portrayal of the character off the stage is extremely profound in a very human, realistic sense. There are even several scenes in the film that he gets to show off his improved dramatic line delivery, and those specific scenes show how far he has come in his acting so far during the first half of this year.

Playing the character loosely based off Tatum's former 19 year-old self is Alex Pettyfer, who likewise to Tatum's early acting gigs hadn't impressed me too much with his debut roles in films like "I Am Number Four" and "Beastly." Fortunately though, his performance surpassed my low expectations, as he reminded me of Mark Wahlberg's role in "Boogie Nights," which did a great job at portraying the innocent nature of a pre-adult person who's introduced to certain exotic pleasures at an instance that is beyond premature for his own being. Nonetheless, I'm surprisingly looking forward to what Pettyfer does in his future acting endeavors, because he seems to act well given a good director like Soderbergh.

Backing up Tatum, Pettyfer, and the rest of the male stripper supporting cast, Matthew McConaughey steals nearly every scene he's in as Dallas, the owner of the Xquisite Strip Club. He expresses powerful, energetic charisma on screen, and looks like he's having an absolute blast playing this charming, comedic mentor that's easily one of the best roles he's played. The rest of the male strippers are played by familiar faces such as Matthew Bomer and "True Blood's" Joe Manganiello, who also do a solid job in their roles, despite the fact that their characters are given nowhere as much screen time as the leads are.

Director Steven Soderbergh is one of the best working directors today in Hollywood, and he proves that he deserves to hold reign over that pristine position yet again. He treats the subject of male stripping in a approach that is neither glorified or flamboyant, and instead paints in a surprisingly realistic approach that manages to appeal to both genders. Furthermore, his expert charisma with his ensemble cast pays off with great performances as usual, and this is especially evident where he's able to bring out realistic human qualities within his characters, too. In addition, Soderbergh's low-key cinematography shines yet again, as he combines his usual solid still shots with numerous instances of long take sequences that show surprising amounts of detail in both the scene's main focus and background.

Screenwriter Reid Carolin balances a solid amount of human drama and genuinecomedy for the cast of exquisite characters, and the dialogue he writes for them feels very real and genuine given the lifestyles they follow, too. In addition, he builds up the film's transition to darker territories considerably well, and it's easy to theorize that Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" had a huge influence on several key plot points that follow in that transition. The only thing that I wished that Carolin would've toned down though, is the amount of times certain characters drop the F-bomb throughout the film. It's arguable that people could say that it adds on to the emotional struggles the characters are going through, but the aspect itself starts going into Kevin Smith territory from how many times you hear it.

While certainly not being the most overall appealing film to release this summer, "Magic Mike" surprisingly manages to be a commendable change of pace from a summer that's been mostly composed of numerous blockbusters being devoid of consistent entertainment. The terrific ensemble acting and Soderbergh's familiar independent flair shine the most in this mostly engrossing tale that takes an interesting look at the behind the scenes of the male stripper lifestyle. It's certainly not going to be the most appeasing film for general film audiences this summer, but it certainly deserves a view from both fans of Soderbergh and the very talented actors.

Final Grade: B+

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