05 July 2012

Review: Magic Mike

Genre: Drama

After last year's Contagion and Haywire, both films bearing his storytelling mark of blocked tableaux in series, Steven Soderbergh stepped away from the sparking networks of characters that dramatize the dynamics of ensemble players' interactions and toward the intimate drama, told almost entirely in the first-person, that may stand as a latter companion-piece to his (2000) Erin Brockovich. Also a singular story pulled from a real life and repainted for the merit of its protagonist actor, this year's Magic Mike is a show.
Historically, it follows and invokes the plot points, characterizations, and narrations of previous dramas like P. T. Anderson's (1997) wonderful Boogie Nights, J. L. Mankiewicz's (1950) classic All about Eve, and even N. W. Refn's (2011) recent Drive. However, artistically, this show doesn't achieve the winding confidence of Boogie Nights, the stylish vitriol of All about Eve, or the insistent visual passion of Drive. Somehow this show's protagonist even lacks the swagger of that of Erin Brockovich.
Indeed, while Magic Mike and its lead Channing Tatum are entertainments of entertainment - buffed, lined, and plated - they fail to hit their marks too often - even for Mr. Soderbergh's generously to-realism tipped hand. Too many imperfections were chosen, too little depth was explored, and too early was the narrative closed for me to appreciate much more than Mr. McConaughey's (surprisingly) coherent and complex performance and a group of fleeting yet incredibly perfect shots (cramming hard directed material into orthogonal and non-accommodating space). The sparse and continuous story of the screenplay was simply inappropriate starting material for the serial storytelling style of the director, and trying to eke out fealty to reality from the resultant admixture filmed distracting layers on top of the action, where there should have been informative layers beneath.
Who is Magic Mike? A stunted dreamer with an artist's soul, who uses the power of seduction for self-compensation even when the world appears to be refusing to compensate him itself for his clearly unique talents? Trustworthy classmate, putting out into the world what he really hopes to receive from it? Smarmy compliment extractor from the cogs outside his wheelhouse and greaser of the ties inside it? Certainly no "yes or no" question should be able to capture the fullness of the protagonist, yet also certainly no scene should be without capturing that fullness, especially no scene of the first-person. If Magic Mike is meant to be read as an autobiographical reflection by its title character - character, not actor - then the sallow tinge, the stuttered presentation, and the few smooth montages of dancing are valid markers of psychological realism in the film making. However, these markers' ultimate impotence to bear out their intents and explain where words and even more replete memories could not wastes a majority of their presences in the work as a whole.
Further tainted by the practically intrusive cinematic displays of the background into the foreground - either further revealing of the shallow depths of the story or artificially punning on the thrust-y artistry of strippers - the work unfortunately speaks more than just at times like a post-reality-entertainment American's attempt at personalizing superflat before audiences who would "come for the sex but leave with the story." As a vehicle for Mr. Tatum's increasingly omnipresent (see the two other films in which he's played lead already this year) success, Magic Mike is itself successful. Yet, the type of success for which I think that this film was really aiming is still somewhere in the other direction.

Grade: C

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