Magic Mike: Typical story made special by Soderbergh and Horn

Magic Mike – 2012

Director Steven Soderbergh
Starring Channing Tatum, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Olivia Munn, Kevin Nash
Screenplay Reid Carolin

Almost 1/3 of the way through Magic Mike, there is a point where Brooke (Horn) has just discovered where her brother Alex (Pettyfer) has been working.  She does her best to shield her eyes as he prances somewhat awkwardly on the stage.  The peeking comes to an end at the moment she sees his friend Mike (Tatum) explode in a pulsating and dynamic rhythm in front of the crowd.  Mesmerized, we can see her thoughts are between disgust and wonder.  She is not won over by his physical prowess, although that does not hurt things.  Her face very clearly shows the path to understanding that her mind is taking.  This is not the face of a person on the verge of getting lost.  She has the countenance of a person who measures every step, taking some steps, and forsaking others.  Incredibly moving, it is the skill of the director (Soderbergh) to linger on her while Tatum is working it in the foreground.  It is the skill of Horn to give Soderbergh a solid reason to keep the lens pointed at her.

No thanks, you don’t need to see my tattoo.

Magic Mike is at its best when we see Cody Horn, in any capacity.  While she is pretty, she is far from exotic.  Her most important feature is her ability to draw a breath.  In this way, she seems more alive than most people onscreen.  She is a good actress.  The first time I noticed her was in Season 8 of The Office.  They had her there primarily as a will he or won’t he for Jim.  They did a good job of showing her ability to fit in with the thinking crowd there.  Soderbergh does a masterful job of creating a whole person here.

For Tatum, Magic Mike is a tale of the struggle to be taken seriously.  That he comes from an exotic dancing background and has a part in this movie is no accident.  The tale, in part is a recounting of experiences that Tatum himself had earlier in his life.  Then, with the variety of movie choices he’s made – a mixture of low-budget decent work and bigger budget Nic Cage level crap – one can definitely see a similarity to the lead character.

While it does not completely elevate Tatum to Oscar level acting, this is some of his best work.  He shows a range of behaviors which are harder to express for his perpetual blank expression.  More importantly, we see that he is an even sort of fellow, for the most part.  And this is what Brooke sees too.  Soderbergh is the right kind of director for both actors.

We all have a favorite dude, even if the phobics won’t admit it. Mine is Nash (right), or Big Sexy, The Giant Killer.

The rest of the crew of Magic Mike are almost right out of films like Boogie Nights in that there are high times that get a little out of control and there is always someone in control who (McConaughey’s Dallas) whose relationship with the talent shifts within the context of the story.  To go over the different types of characters would fill about a paragraph and get you almost nowhere.  Suffice to say, it was nice to see Kevin Nash on the screen in any capacity.  He’s always been one of my favorites from another guilty pleasure: big time wrestling.

Soderbergh, Carolin and the cast have a real cohesion going throughout Magic Mike.  There is a confidence in the story that allows the viewer to not rely too heavily on the gimmickry of the dancing, while at the same time, allotting the profession the seriousness it deserves.  The work is not on par with the best of Soderbergh’s work, including last year’s riveting Contagion, but it is in part his work that makes the film special.  We see people, not just bodies.

There is rumored to be a sequel to this film in the works, making it somewhat of a road movie.  If all the same players are involved, it may well be worth the trip.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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