Two stars. Rating: R, for pervasive sexual content, profanity, drug use and fleeting graphic nudity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.29.12
For perhaps 15 minutes, Channing Tatum’s title character seems an honorable fellow, deserving sympathy and worthy of our hope that he might escape the unusual lifestyle into which he had trapped himself.
But that, it soon became clear, was giving far too much credit to Reid Carolin’s vacuous, soulless and utterly pointless screenplay. Magic Mike is worse than disappointing; it’s boring. It can’t even succeed as a titillating guilty pleasure, and that’s a harsh indictment for a project so consumed with the world of male strippers.
We’re never made to care about any of these guys, let alone the few women who revolve around their self-absorbed orbits. Nobody deserves redemption, and not even Tatum’s Mike deserves happiness; he does nothing to earn it. Carolin’s core plot is as old as Hollywood’s hedonistic hills — dewy-eyed innocent gets seduced and quickly overwhelmed by the sybaritic delights of his new occupation — and this slog of a film does nothing to freshen up the material, or make it interesting in any manner.
All of which is quite a surprise, considering that the man at the helm is Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh. What a waste of time and talent.
We must remember, though, that Soderbergh comes in several different flavors. He’s the consummate observer of human nature who brought us exceptional dramas such as King of the Hill, Erin Brockovich and Traffic; he’s also the crowd-pleasing entertainer who delighted us with star-studded confections such as Ocean’s Eleven, Out of Sight and The Good German.
For the purposes of this discussion, however, Soderbergh is the kink-obsessed voyeur and stylistic renegade who began his big-screen career with 1989’s sex, lies and videotape, and then tortured us 13 years later with the jaw-droppingly inept and deadly dull Full Frontal, truly one of the worst films ever made by an A-list director.
That's the guy who made Magic Mike.
This film’s most irritating stylistic tic surfaces quickly, with Soderbergh’s reliance on a seemingly spontaneous approach to dialogue delivery. All his actors fumble and stumble through their lines, obviously deliberately, as if to suggest verisimilitude by mimicking the way ordinary people talk to each other in real life. Our speech often is punctuated by pauses and struggles for the right words, as opposed to the sparkling, perfectly timed bon mots traditionally delivered in movies.
OK, fair point. But it simply doesn’t work here; too often these actors — most particularly Tatum — look and sound as if they can’t remember their lines. Or, worse yet, like they’re improvising dialogue on the spot, and doing a truly terrible job of it.
There’s a world of difference between naturalistic and incompetent, and Magic Mike too frequently feels like the latter.