I was really looking forward to Magic Mike. I used to think Channing Tatum was a bit of an oaf, but I started to come around when The Vow proved he can sell a love story, and I was fully on board after he knocked 21 Jump Street out of the comedic park. After that, I re-watched She’s the Man and finally loved it. Maybe one of these days I will actually go back to Step Up to see if I change my mind on his lumbering performance. But anyway, that’s why I was excited to see Magic Mike. I like Steven Soderbergh (and by that I mean I like Ocean’s Eleven and Contagion), and I could look at Matt Bomer all day, but I was going for Channing, and let’s face it, so was everyone else. I liked that it was based on his past and that Soderbergh asked him for an outline after hearing stories about his life at 17 on the set of Haywire. I liked that while filming the guys would reportedly stay behind and cheer each other on during dance routines instead of going home right away. I liked the movie’s trailer and the poster and that Channing is actually a good dancer and not just a hot guy with abs to show off (he’s not a Great dancer, like they should have cast for Step Up, but he’s a damn good dancer on the grand scale of actors playing strippers). Magic Mike looked like a lot of fun starring and based on an actor I, like the rest of the world, really like. It looked like a fast-paced, high-satire joyride about the backstage antics of a pack of cute boys with good abs and a sense of humour about the absurdity of their own lives.
Unfortunately, that’s only what about half of Magic Mike is actually about. Not even half, really; maybe a quarter. The scenes wherein the boys do over-choreographed numbers like “It’s Raining Men” or “Dr. Love” then pal around backstage are tons of fun. They develop their camaraderie well and look like they’re having the time of their lives with their self-aware bootyshaking. Matthew McConaughey is delightfully smarmy as the club owner Dallas and even Alex Pettyfer is a fun recruit, breaking the rules his first time on stage and getting sucked into the lifestyle. There’s a funny thong-buying scene and plenty of knowing smirks as the “the law says you cannot touch, but I think I see a lot of law breakers up in this house tonight” parts of the movie live up to its marketing. That, for the record, is the film’s best line. It’s funny and a little bit smarmy and perfectly represents the movie’s fun exploration of the joyous, carefree atmosphere at a male strip joint as opposed to the sad buffet female kind. Channing Tatum belongs in this part of the movie. He’s incredibly charming, really funny, (he can dance!,) and he’s at his best when joking with his near-naked comrades, luring sorority girls to the show, or uttering great underplayed lines to his drag of a love interest like “Are we fighting? Is this our first fight?”. You may notice that everything I mention in this part of the review is in the trailer- that’s because the trailer really is the best thing about the movie!
Sadly, there’s other stuff in between the club scenes and general Channing greatness. There’s a whole other movie buried in between the scenes of what I thought Magic Mike was supposed to be. It’s a semi-gritty, wholly-depressing, yellow-toned desperation story featuring Alex Pettyfer dealing drugs, taking drugs, and passing out in his own vomit because he took too many drugs. Pettyfer’s loserdom is actually just the subplot of Magic Mike: Depressing Edition, a McGuffin to make Mike (Tatum) lose the stripping money he’d spent years saving for dream-following (in this case, not Tatum’s real while-stripping dream of acting, that would make too much sense- Mike wants to design furniture out of garbage. Duh). Depressing Edition is actually a sort of interesting story about the ways in which we compromise, and then settle for that compromise. Mike’s made to realize the profundity of this journey via lecture from his love interest (Cody Horn). Horn’s really hot, and she has that low voice guys are so crazy for right now (that’s got to be a fad, right? It’s only popular because of Emma Stone, I’m sure), but her character is such an DRRRRRAAAAAG that I don’t know how she could possibly be responsible for bringing in the male viewers. My god, the lectures and the judging and the constant walking away from love-struck Channing- what is Wrong with this girl? None of that is Horn’s fault, obviously, it just seemed so incredibly weird that I had to complain about it for a moment. Mike would be a more interesting character if he could come to his own conclusion about the directionless patheticness of his life. It’s not an uninteresting conclusion; in fact, I think that would have made a kind of thoughtful movie if they’d done it right.
The trouble lies in the combination of these two potentially good movies. There’s the funny version- the manmeat satire/buddy comedy that plays out at the strip club- a film that would do well in the summer season then play forever at bachelorette parties and midnight screenings. Or there’s the gritty character drama- the one about Mike learning the cost of selling yourself on behalf of your dreams- that, if executed perfectly, would dominate the indie festivals, launch Tatum as a serious dramatic actor, and cast a glaring eye on a seedy industry. These two movies Cannot be one movie, they don’t make sense together. In order for the funny movie to be funny at all, it can’t have the unpleasant layer of sadness and broken dreams that the dramatic movie cannot exist without. Unfortunately, Magic Mike tries be both, and therefore is neither.