In 1964 Director William Asher unleashed Bikini Beach upon the world allowing Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Don Rickles and…little Stevie Wonder to brighten up the summertime. With Boris Karloff as the Art Dealer and the uncredited voice of Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched, the camp was fun and spawned a series of sequels. That camp went on to beget good-time silliness like Police Academy, Porky’s and American Pie. Every generation, it seems, had a kinda sorta Bikini Beach.
Director Steven Soderbergh has his own festive little series with the Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen films, but what we have here is something unique and rather extraordinary. Co-producer Channing Tatum knows he needs to – pardon the expression – get over the hump in order to become the marquee star he’s positioned for. This is Tatum’s Dirty Dancing, his cool version of Saturday Night Fever, and this is Soderbergh’s redemption for Full Frontal, a movie that promised but didn’t deliver, more disappointing because it came in the shadow of what this critic considers his greatest triumph to date, Erin Brokovich. Heck, reuniting Julia Roberts with Soderbergh put the hopes for Full Frontal very high and it just went sideways into a meandering, aimless bore fest. Well Soderbergh must’ve pulled out the old William Asher flicks because Magic Mike could be the beach party movie of 2012, while giving you full frontal as well.
There is a romantic plot here, textured inside all the flesh, so much eye candy. And if women are tired of hearing the term “chick flick” they can put that away because this is the Avatar of sex romps, someone writing on YouTube a charming “I WANT THIS IN 3D”. If Ashton Kutcher’s 2011 No Strings Attached had too many tasteless moments, the crew here replaces shock talk with plain old sex shock, and it works!
With a better script than Avatar, and dancing from Tatum and the boys than Travolta could ever hope to generate, this is clearly a conspiracy by singer/songwriter Matthew McConaughey (you read that right…he performs as if he’s on an episode of The Golden Girls, but it ain’t half bad and comes up again over the closing credits), director Soderbergh and Tatum to push the boundaries of Hollywood’s “try-looking-we-won’t-show-it” gang. Let’s put it this way – many of us have heard of the Accu-Jack sex toy but most have never seen it in action. You will now.
It glides in a bit subtle at first, then, is truly in your face, like when Dr. J in the 1974 classic Flesh Gordon film pondered “Must be some kind of penisaurus.” Flesh Gordon wasn’t mainstream enough to get the attention Magic Mike will, and the envelope has now been pushed.
McConaughey looks terrific at 43 and plays the sleazy owner of the entertainment exposition with reserved relish. There is so much flesh that it becomes a numbing experience, less sexually provocative than one might think. And there is a moral to the story, that the balancing act when indulging in such over-the-top exercises on a nightly basis is possibly going to – and does – lead to other temptations.
The story could have gone into another dimension, specifically true erotica of a Belle de Jour nature found way back when in 1967 when Catherine Deneuve – at 24 years of age – was considered “the most beautiful woman in the world. But, alas, it slides into the Dirty Dancing mode made immortal by Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze. The cute Cody Horn (the daughter of Warner Brothers President & COO Alan Horn) delightfully staying above the nonsense, bringing some grounding to the out-of-control world her brother Adam, played by Alex Pettyfer, descends into.
Pettyfer is a real find, growing up quickly after his wonderful performance in the Science Fiction epic I Am Number Four. He appears to fill in to that niche Channing Tatum had for Jaime Bell in The Eagle a year and a half ago, the male bonding more subtle than it could be, all things considered…all things being equal for that matter.
It’s a fun movie and it should be an explosive film this summer. Made for a mere 7 million it made its money back on opening day and more, a nice template for profit-conscious Hollywood that has appeared to have abandoned independent movies.
Magic Mike’s actors realize that having a good time onscreen is what it is all about. With superb dancing and a good enough plotline to put a human face on those who take their clothes off for our enjoyment it could revitalize burlesque. It’s like one of those live sex acts in New York. No one goes there to get excited, it’s more like the ballet or watching acrobats. It’s so matter-of-fact, ho hum, that the nicely dressed couples and business people just seem to go for the spectacle of the entertainment. Oh the holier-than-thou types will label this movie borderline pornography, but it’s not. It’s sex as entertainment, in your face flesh that really is the backdrop to the friendship between Adam (Pettyfer) and “Magic Mike” Laine (Tatum). “Magic Mike” is the persona branded on him, and he carries it into the daytime with an opening wide enough to say to the chef “sequel”.
File this under: Bikini Beach meets Dirty Dancing…it’s an adult-themed summer film that entertains.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.