I feel like Channing Tatum’s (still young) acting career has been building up to his performance in “Magic Mike.” Up until this year the 32-year-old actor has been bland and mediocre, mostly starring in lackluster action flicks like “The Eagle” or “G.I. Joe” and others that don’t exactly require good acting. However, for whatever reason, with “Magic Mike” and the three other movies he’s been in so far this year he’s finally beginning to find his footing and slowly but surely turning into a good actor.
In “Magic Mike” we have a perfect balance for Tatum. On the one hand his muscular physique and chiseled face go well with the fact that his character (known as Magic Mike) is male stripper. But he’s a male stripper who wants to do more with his life. He wants to open up a custom furniture shop; he wants to be an entrepreneur. Magic Mike has substance to him, as opposed to just being a slab of attractive meat.
Tatum--with his newfound acting abilities--brings a lot of energy and personality to the role. He feels alive. When he comes out onto the stage, shirt off, showing his glorious six-pack, wearing a thong, and dancing to a crowd of cheering women, you can’t help but crack a smile and feel giddy with excitement. This is by far the best he’s ever been.
The movie itself is not what you would expect initially coming in. The ads make it look like a campy, sparkling romantic comedy, and while it is a comedy (for a while anyway) and there is romance it’s anything but campy and sparkly. It has a look and feel more fitted for an indie picture. The movie is directed by Steven Soderberg and if you’ve seen any of his previous efforts— recently, the spy action thriller “Haywire” that came out earlier this year, or “Contagion,” about a flu epidemic, that came out last year—you can recognize his visual touches.
The picture has a yellowish tint to it and there’s quite a bit of hand held camera use (although not blatantly) that gives the film a distinctive and stylish seventies/eighties Euro pop look. The many stripper dance numbers throughout have both an old fashioned glamorousness to them and—when the movie gets more serious—a raw seediness. Not only that, the movie moves at a leisurely pace, it’s not in any hurry to move from one plot point to another. Soderberg keeps his camera on his actors for extended periods, letting them perform and letting us take in the emotions as opposed to zipping from one scene to the next.
The central story focuses on the friendship of Mike and Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a nineteen year old who doesn’t know what to do with his life. So Mike takes him under his wing and teaches him to strip, or as Mike describes it: “To party, pick up woman and make easy money.” And then through that comes Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn doing the best she can with a naggy, uptight character), the love interest who’s skeptical of her brother’s new job.
The first half, “Magic Mike” is mostly comedic, which is a good place to begin a story about strippers. Soderberg and screenwriter Reid Carolin embrace that aspect wholeheartedly, everything from the awkward day-to-day situations to the straight up ridiculousness of some of the dance numbers. And all of the actors have their fun. Tatum can do comedy with ease; that was made clear mainly from “21 Jump Street” and a little bit in “The Vow.” He’s oafish and sarcastic, which can be off putting at first but since Magic Mike is a stripper (therefore, known more for his looks than his brains) it seems appropriate. Pettyfer, who’s just 22, has more growing to do as an actor but since he’s Tatum’s protégé his lesser acting also feels appropriate. And then there’s Mathew McConaughey as Dallas, the veteran stripper whose arrogant and charming qualities fit right at home with the rest of the movie. Except for Cody, everyone in the movie feels right.
However, at about the halfway point the movie gets serious real fast. The women, money and good times eventually catch up to Adam and before he knows it he’s in the business of selling illegal pills and partaking in them himself. But that doesn’t affect the movie in any negative ways. If anything it gets better and the actors are up for the challenge. Despite the money and the glamour, stripping ain’t easy. Soderberg lets that sometimes harsh reality play out without any comic distractions, at the same relaxed pace as the first half. It’s a nice unexpected turn, adding depth and authenticity to a premise that could easily turn into cheese.
Sure, “Magic Mike” isn’t devoid of flaws but the only complaints I have are minor and not worth getting into. It will be interesting to see how audiences react to it. The picture has a different look and feel and right from the start it doesn’t go the way you think it will go. And that doesn’t always go over very well with the general audience. But the film still has Tatum, which means at least the female audience members will go nuts. With “Magic Mike” he manages to be both good looking and a convincing actor. That’s hard to do.