"Magic Mike" reviewed in six words: All right, all right, all right.
OK, here’s a little more: Director Steven Soderbergh — using a yellow filter to make Florida look grimier and sleazier than normal — throws a lot of balls in the air here. “Magic Mike” wants to use male stripping as a prism with which to reflect the U.S. economy, the attitude of millennials and this question: What does “the American Dream” mean in 2012? Unfortunately, because of the same easygoing charm possessed by its main character, Mike (Channing Tatum), “Magic Mike” doesn’t really get to any of that. It just wants to build custom-made furniture in peace.
Part of this is because Soderbergh never really draws the audience into this crazy playground. If you’ve seen “Goodfellas” or “Boogie Nights,” you’ve seen “Magic Mike”: The youngster enters into a world of sex, money and excess, gets in too deep and struggles to reclaim his soul. Or not. Perhaps intentionally, Soderbergh never makes male stripping look all that appealing. It’s not unappealing, per se; it’s just there. “Goodfellas” made living like a schnook look like a punishment worse than death; “Boogie Nights” made the porn world look like an island of sexy misfit toys. “Magic Mike” makes stripping exist. The end.
That means there are no high highs or low lows within the plot of “Magic Mike.” There’s no danger. Even when there is danger, there’s no danger. The Kid (Alex Pettyfer, fascinating and layered), “Magic Mike’s” Henry Hill-cum-Dirk Diggler, dabbles in drug dealing, but it gets cleaned up with little more than a shrug and $10,000 in cash from Mike himself. Again, maybe that’s Soderbergh. Maybe the idea is that Mike’s hard-earned savings will never go to the furniture business he keeps talking about; until Mike frees himself from the bonds of male stripping, and the
blood glitter money that comes with it, he won’t be able to start his new life. That’s fair and all, but still: We couldn’t break The Kid’s arm?
Anyway, those are story nitpicks, but “Magic Mike” isn’t really about story. It’s about performance, technique and mood. In that regard, it’s aces. Not surprisingly, Soderbergh gets top work from Tatum, Pettyfer and, especially, Matthew McConaughey. Getting the Joe Pesci-in-“Goodfellas” slot in “Magic Mike,” McConaughey gets to play McConaughey playing McConaughey. He keeps getting older, but the assless chaps stay the same age? Something like that. McConaughey’s Dallas is creepy, funny, daring, sexy, smarmy, intimidating and flamboyant. He’s full of hubris, but also just wants to be loved. It’s virtuoso work from McConaughey, and he really does deserve some Oscar recognition. At the very least, it’s a performance we’ll be talking about until the nominations get announced early next year. He’s the cock-rocking king of “Magic Mike.”
On the distaff side of things, Cody Horn is actually pretty great, too. When she’s forced to emote terror and anger, it doesn’t work; when she’s playing cute opposite Tatum’s Mike and teasing her ne’er-do-well brother, which is often, it does. (Horn and Tatum have great chemistry, while you actually believe she’s related to Pettyfer.) Those two relationships are the strongest part of the film, and it’s a credit to Horn — and Soderbergh for having such faith in her as a female lead — that they succeed.
In the end, “Magic Mike” is much more than you expected and much less than you wanted. It’s weighty and smart, but careless and lazy. It’s happy to take your fives, but not your 20s.