It’s amazing how a movie can surprise you because you make an assumption based on its key ingredients. The movie is advertised and heavily promoted as a movie about male stripping. It attracts even more people because the star is Channing Tatum. Regardless of the fact that Tatum has moved away from his Step Up, The Vow and Dear John persona in his last couple of films, it still looks like a romantic comedy with naked dancing. Add romantic comedy veteran Matthew McConaughey, the ingredients for a standard “stripper meets friends sister and falls in love” is all there.
It was a surprise to find that the movie is a lot more than that. It isn’t a romantic comedy, in fact romance isn’t even at the heart of the movie. It’s a drama, about a man taking stock of his life and ambitions and having to make some very clear decisions about leaving behind what he knows and does very well. The fact it’s about stripping is inconsequential because the film would work with bank robbing, professional gambling or even, maybe, tax collecting. It’s about feeling unfulfilled about a lifestyle and making the decision to turn your back on what you know.
This is a great vehicle for Channing Tatum, who plays this role very well. He has shown in recent movies, 21 Jump Street specifically, that he is more than muscles, dancing and brute force. He can do comedy very well and Magic Mike also demonstrates his acting ability even further. It does focus a lot on his dancing and his muscles but the movie isn’t actually about stripping.
It does a very good job of using the stripping when necessary and sparingly to a certain extent. The stripping never feels like its gratuitous, thrown in because its been twenty minutes since we’ve seen Tatum’s six-pack. It always serves to push the story forward, either peaking a female character’s interest, demonstrating a new strippers talent or focusing on the skill that Tatum’s character has. A skill that is very apparent in a lot of cases.
The movie works best when it is about Mike. When the film is focusing on Tatum’s struggle to move away from stripping, whether it be because of the money he makes or because of his own ambitions in other areas, the movie is interesting. There are a couple of female characters which serve their specific purpose, either to highlight the frivolous nature of his life or to be a draw away to something else and McConaughey plays the stripping night host perfectly, being equal parts charming and funny then flipping to sinister and slimy. This isn’t the same guy we saw in Ghosts of Girlfriend Past.
It’s when the film is focusing on the second story, the rise of new stripper, The Kid. He begins as our eyes into the world of stripping and the counterpoint to Tatum’s move away from stripping when he gets sucked into the world of money, taking your clothes off and whatever girls he wants. The problem is, Alex Pettyfer, who plays The Kid, isn’t very good. He lacks any charisma or real acting talent so you don’t actually care when his character’s indulgences get the better of him. His story becomes a distraction from Tatum’s, which isn’t great considering it takes up at least half of the film’s focus.
Overall, Magic Mike is a good film about a man’s reflection on his life and his ambitions, and surprisingly, not really a movie about stripping. The dancing in the film is done very well, but Tatum is clearly moving away from his heart-throb, dancing persona and towards better “acting” roles. The film tells a very good story, but only when it’s focused on Mike, not the second story of The Kid, which is badly acted and nothing much more than a distraction.
Rating – 3.5
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