Spoiler Level: High, so don't read unless you have already seen Magic Mike, or, like me, have already decided not to see it.
I'll be the first to admit it: life really isn't fair. For almost a year I've been arm-twisting my girlfriend, the lovely N., into watching movies with me that she didn't want to watch, just so I could write up her reactions for our occasional series, "The Unenthusiastic Critic." She's sat through off-color comedies, earnest movie musicals, and a whole week-long horror fest, with nary a complaint. (Well, okay, that's a lie: she complained a lot. A lot. Like, incessantly. But that was kind of the point.)
But when it comes to a movie she wants to see, that I really, really don't want to see? Sometimes, we compromise, but once in a while she decides to give me a break and go by herself. ("I'm a nicer person than you are," she explains, quite accurately.) Such was the case with Magic Mike, the new Steven Soderbergh-directed beefcake flick starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. It's not that I'm necessarily opposed to two hours of watching my girlfriend drool over men with bodies much, much better than my own, but it didn't sound like a particularly good time to me either. I offered to go with her, but she perceptively intuited that my heart wasn't really in it and agreed to go by herself.
Me: "Why don't you review it for the blog?"
She: "I'm not the critic." [NOTE: This is what she always says when I suggest she do my job for me.]
Me: "You're The Unenthusiastic Critic. Your fanbase is clamoring for your opinion on Magic Mike."
She: "No, they're not. Besides, I already know my opinion: it should be less talky, more strippy."
Me: "Okay, but you could expand on that. This could be the beginning of a whole new series: The Unenthusiastic Critic Flies Solo. People like you way better than they like me anyway."
N. grumbles, and kvetches, and pshaws, and stubbornly refuses to commit to anything. But when she returns from the theater, she is toting a notebook full of illegible notes that she tentatively agrees to transcribe.
So here, without further ado, I am pleased to present the first solo review by The Unenthusiastic Critic (with, admittedly, the occasional editorial aside from me).
It's 2:30 on a Monday afternoon, and the theater seems humid and dank. Not a huge crowd, just 30-40 people: there's a smattering of single, elderly gentlemen, and a few groups of single young ladies. (One such claque, sitting in front of me, breaks out the plastic shot glasses, ready for the show.) Most of the audience is composed of middle-aged ladies, who dump the day’s haul from Bloomingdales’s and Nordstrom on the theater floor at their feet. (Judging by the looks of these women, this will probably be the most action those new pillow shams will ever see.)
And we're off…
We open on Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), holding court (and his crotch) in front of a packed room of eager ladies and laying down the rules of his fine establishment. With the dulcet tones of his Southern drawl, he’s a pimp offering all of us a taste of his wares with a glass of sweet tea. McConaughey, in full-on leather-daddy cowboy regalia, is kind of great in this role. He’s a dark parody of his public persona: it’s a glimpse into an alternate universe where Wooderson from Dazed and Confused decides to make those pretty high school football players work the pole. Where I typically find his schtick smarmy and self-satisfied, here he’s the perfect mix of charisma and simmering rage.
Me: "Matthew McConaughey? Really? I mean, really?"
She: "You know, I realized after, it's his accent, and the way he says 'Alright, alright, alright…' With every 'alright,' I can feel my legs open just a little bit wider."
Me: "I have now, officially, lost any respect I ever had for you."
Three minutes in and we get to meet another stripper, Mike (Channing Tatum), and his main fuck buddy, Joanna (Olivia Munn). (We also get to see his butt, and her boobs. I don’t really have a thing for Tatum, but the view was nice. The sepia tone stands for artistry.)
Mike, we learn, is your typical underground economy hustler. Aside from stripping, he’s involved in a few cash-only business ventures in an effort to save up money to finance his dream: Mike’s Custom Furniture Concepts. (He’s good with his hands, ladies.) He’s also banking on Dallas giving him a stake in a club he’s planning on opening in Miami.
While on site at his roofing job, Mike meets Adam, aka “The Kid” (Alex Pettyfer), a failed college safety drifting through life on his sister’s couch.
(As a sidenote, no one, and I mean NO ONE, in film should ever be called “The Kid.” That moniker is owned by the great one, Prince, and his illustrious portrayals in Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon, and Graffiti Bridge. Just as there can never be another sled called Rosebud, there is only one Kid.)
Me: "And now everyone else has lost respect for you too. Since when does fucking Prince own the moniker 'kid'?"
She: "Since forever. He's The Kid."
Me: "Jackie Coogan will be surprised to hear that."
She: "Who the fuck is Jackie Coogan?"
Me: "To say nothing of Humphrey Bogart." [Blank stare.] "Here's looking at you, kid?"
Mike takes “Kid the Lesser” under his beefy wing and asks him the question we all must ask ourselves: “You want to be inside or outside?” And, with that, we’re swept into the Club of Life, wishing we’d dressed better. Mike introduces the Kid to the life of male stripping, and down the hairless and well-oiled rabbit hole we go. We meet all the gentlemen: Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and the aptly named Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello). (There’s a nice shot of Big Dick Richie using a penis pump, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
And then: Hallelujah! It’s Raining Men! Stripper montage! Ken doll! Construction worker! Big Dick Richie with his big dick in silhouette! (Keeps it classy.) Dallas on the bongos! (Seriously, I think Soderbergh’s only direction to McConaughey was “Do you, only darker.”)
Alas, in a classic showbiz-movie trope, one of the performers can't go on, giving the young up-and-comer his big break. When Tarzan passes out backstage, they throw The Kid to the cougars. He doesn't have a lot of technique—he takes his clothes off like he's undressing for a chick passed out in his dorm room—but he makes out with one of the drooling ladies in the audience and so becomes a star.
Me: Yep, that's just how it happened in All About Eve.
After the exhilarating fun of that scene, the sepia light of day breaks in and we meet the Kid’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). Brooke doesn't know at first that her little brother is stripping: given the assortment of thongs, sailor hats, and leather items he leaves lying about—and the fact that she catches him shaving his crotch with her Lady Schick—she assumes, intead, that he's gay. She's fine with that, but when she discovers he's stripping she's all disapproval and judginess. She goes to the club, and Magic Mike is killing it onstage to Ginuwine's "Pony"—dressed in his cleanest hip-hop garb leftover from his Step Up 2: The Streets days—and then we cut to her in the audience, looking all disapproving and puckery.
It's bad enough she's playing the role of the responsible older sister—which would already make her a speedbump for the film—but Horn is also a terrible actress. (I'm not making any assumptions about how she got this role, but I can't help but notice that she’s the daughter of Alan Horn, the President and COO of Warner Bros.) We’re all enjoying ourselves and then BAM, there’s her disapproving face, like a puckered anus ready to shit all over our parade.
She will, from here on out, be referred to as the Puckered Anus, or P.A. for short.
Me: "And there goes any hope I ever had of receiving free screener copies of Warner Bros. movies. Thank you so very much, babe."
She: "I don't give a shit! She was horrible!"
But Mike longs for a real relationship with someone like Puckered Anus. After all, is there anything sadder than sitting alone in a darkened room, glass in hand, pressing out your crumpled singles on the custom table you made? You can call your fuck buddy Olivia Munn for a little human connection, but she's not interested in conversation: all she wants to offer is her vagina. It’s a goddamn tragedy. (There has to be a song for this situation. Something by Harry Chapin, maybe? Oh, the cat's in the cradle and the silver thong…?)
After another stripper montage—Paramedics! (Defib via penis thrusts.) Tarzan! Golden God! Boxer! Fire Fighter!—we are at a party at Dallas's place. (Be careful of the couch: it’s microsuede.) The Kid’s getting in deep, doing E and cavorting with a woman, Nora (Riley Keough), who carries her miniature pet pig Herman around with her at the party.
Then a gig at a sorority house goes sour—there's nothing less dignified than fisticuffs in thongs—and Mike realizes that Dallas has also offered The Kid a stake in the Miami club. Mike, realizing that Dallas's promises are bullshit, and they have a confrontation. (Who knew McConaughey could be so terrifying in a terry cloth robe?)
As if this blow weren't bad enough, Mike also discovers that his fuck buddy Olivia Munn is engaged: so it's not that she didn't want a real relationship, she just didn't want one with him. Now we have the "Magic Mike and the Kid get wasted montage!" Debauched existential despair looks beautiful when it’s shot in neon blue and red.
Then it’s the morning after, and—judging by the fact that he’s passed out in his own sick—I think the Kid went overboard. And if that wasn’t a sad enough image, Herman the Pig is licking up the puke. (I’m getting flashbacks to the baby in Trainspotting. It's bad enough for the people involved, but this is no life for a pig with a name.)
P.A.—puckered to the point of caving in on herself like a black hole—rushes in to find her brother in this state, and yells at Mike for letting The Kid fall so far. She reaches into her puckered anus and pulls out the insult to end all insults: she calls Mike a 30-year old stripper.
(Not as bad as being a virgin who can’t drive, but still: that was way harsh, P.A.)
Finally, we're at the end of the movie. It’s last call at the strip club: one final show before Dallas and his boys pack up to greener g-strings in Miami. Dallas serenades the crowd of ladies and performs his swan song, complete with an impressive split and a shot of the superior anus in this film. As what would have been his future self is on stage catching singles with his butt cheeks, Mike decides he’s had enough and leaves the club behind. He runs straight into the arms of P.A. and everything is alright, alright, alright.
Me: "So…was it any good?"
She: "It was alright. Channing Tatum is charming, and Alex Pettyfer is good. Save for McConaughney, the other guys don’t get a whole lot to do aside from look good."
Me: "Why was this worth Soderbergh's efforts? Was it a real movie, or was it just a stripper movie?"
She: "No, there wasn't enough stripping for it to be just a stripper movie. It was a pretty standard, dark morality tale of taking the hard road to follow your dream, given a bit more weight by some pretty stunning cinematography by Soderbergh. Mike sees The Kid as who he used to be, and Dallas as who he could become, and has to decide what to do with his life."
Me: "So it's like the Ghost of Strippers Past and the Ghost of Strippers Future."
Me: "And did it succeed as eye-candy? Did it get you all hot and bothered?"
She: "Umm…" [Loooooooooooong pause] "Channing Tatum is a very good-looking man. He has a nice body, and he can dance. I would throw singles at him if I were there. A few of his performances are fun, and he has a great body."
Me: "Yeah, you mentioned that."
She: "He's a good-looking kid. But here's my problem with male stripping: I'm good as long as you're dancing and performing, but once you start thrusting, I'm done. I don't want your penis in my face. I don't want to worry about getting herpes of the eye. That is not a turn on."
Me: "So you're a classy connoisseur of male strippage. You're in it more for the artistry, and less to stick your hand down some guy's sweaty thong."
She: "Right, because that's some nasty shit. What you don't want is an STD without the S. If I'm gonna get the TD, I want the S too."
Me: "You know, you've never asked me to strip for you."
She: "I respect you too much to shove crumpled singles down your thong."
Me: "OK. For the record, I don't respect you that much, so if you ever want to do a little dance…"
She: "Gonna take a lot more than singles, let me tell you."
Next Up for The Unenthusiastic Critic: We begin our 2nd annual Halloween movie marathon as my girlfriend enjoys her first viewing of George A. Romero's 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead.