Some motion pictures manage to be two different movies within the same film. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonis, for example, is both a martial arts epic and a beautiful dramatic love story. Magic Mike tries hard to be several movies – and ends up being none of them.
Channing Tatum is “Mike.” He lives an interesting life. He builds one-of-a-kind custom furniture, but not on a scale where he can really make money from it. He’s in construction. He runs a car-detailing service and a promotion company. But he makes his real money at night, taking off his clothes for crowds of wild women in Tampa, where he lives right on the water. He’s working to save enough money to fund his custom furniture building business, which is his dream, but that’s going slowly.
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Alex Pettyfer is “Adam.” He comes into Mike’s life on a fateful morning when he shows up to a new gig as a roofer, a job he got by lying about his abilities as a roofer. Mike helps him out and when Adam’s ride won’t start after work, Mike offers him a lift. Soon they’re in a club, talking to two young women and Mike is trying to talk them into coming to another club a little later on, a club where men are the entertainment and women are the entertained.
Then Mike talks Matthew McConaughey’s “Dallas” into giving Adam a gig as the prop guy for that night’s show. But something goes wrong with one of the scheduled dancers and suddenly Adam is “The Kid” and forced onto the stage to dance. He is an instant success and Dallas is quick to see his potential.
Eventually Adam gets home to his sister “Brooke,” played by Cody Horn. Turns out that Adam resides on his sister’s couch, thanks to her largess. She’s not pleased at Adam’s late arrival home, nor is she happy that apparently there’s a new influence in Adam’s life. She explains that Adam has struggled with life since he blew his shot at a college football career by doing something stupid.
Adam is quickly drawn into the life of a male stripper and he likes it. The money is good, the sex readily available and he’s introduced into the darker side of this world when he starts into drugs. Mike had agreed to Brooke’s plea that he keep watch over her brother, but he’s helpless to do anything about Adam’s descent once he downs his first tablet.
Mike has his own issues though. Dallas wants to leave Tampa in his rear view mirror and head to a better, more lucrative location in Miami, and he’s promised that Mike will gain an equity stake in the new club, rather than relying on just the tips he makes and his share of the gate. Mike and Dallas have been together for a while and Mike seems to trust Dallas implicitly in spite of the appearances that Dallas has screwed others over before.
Mike is also dealing with Olivia Munn’s “Joanna.” Ostensibly a psychology student who is “observing” the strippers behavior as part of her last days before completing her educational requirements. In actuality, she’s just loving the sex with Mike, particularly threesomes he arranges with other gorgeous girls. He wants more than just sex from her, but she doesn’t seem interested and we learn why at one of the turning points for Mike.
When Adam moves on from taking drugs to being a potential seller of drugs, things deteriorate. There’s a major problem and from there it’s only a short time before Adam bottoms out and finds a way to take Mike with him. How Mike will try to save Adam, and to save himself is the critical moment in Mike’s story.
Before I start with a few real spoilers that are required to adequately discuss whyMagic Mike isn’t magic, it is worth pointing out that the dance sequences were well produced and provide the most entertaining moments in the film, particularly for female audiences. Plenty of hard-bodied male beefcake is on display and someone with experience (possibly Tatum who did strip for real for 8 or 9 months in his late teens) choreographed the numbers. Most of the men handle themselves well, with the exception of former WWE star Kevin Nash, who seems to struggle a bit with the dancing. But the scenes outside of the club environment often plod along too slowly to hold one’s attention.
Director Steven Soderberg and writer Reid Carolin seem unsure about what movie they are making. Is it the story of a teen college dropout who comes under the mentorship of a street-wise older guy who takes him into the world of stripping? Is it a look at the really dark side of stripping? Is it a romance between a man trying to find the right path in life and a woman who isn’t particularly patient with that man when it seems that he is exposing her beloved brother to danger? In trying to be all three films, it tries to be too much of three things and becomes little of anything in the end.
Worse yet is the lack of realism (real spoilers start here, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading) that the filmmakers subject the audience to. The film takes place in Tampa, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that every single member of the audience in every “strip show” we’re shown is under 35, slender, with a hot body and dressed to show off that body. The term “cougars” is mentioned early on, but apparently cougars in Tampa go to some other club where men dance nearly naked. Another club we never see.
This is supposed to be a movie for women to look at men’s hard bodies, but there are a bunch of female “hotties” on display and I’m talking more than just cleavage and tight clothes. Munn and at least two or three other women spend more than just a few seconds showing off naked chests, some of which are quite spectacular. Perhaps that was to try to generate a heterosexual male audience, or perhaps just to make a point that women are beautiful too. But the fact that all but one of the women in this film are indeed beautiful makes the unrealistic nature of the portrayal all that much harder to accept.
Worse yet, Tatum is almost wooden in his portrayal of Mike. If it were possible to have less than one dimension, he came close to achieving that kind of performance. He is made to look even worse behind a strong performance from McConaughey, who is more than just very fit for his age (few guys look that good at 42). There is a darkness to Dallas and we get just enough of that from McConaughey to make it real. He seems so nice and helpful and yet if you pay attention you’ll learn that he’ll dump any or all of the dancers he supports and coddles if it will provide him with financial security.
If Magic Mike had focused on being just one type of film, it might have succeeded. It didn’t and therefore, it doesn’t.