Magic Mike 2012 ★★½

The 1970s version of the Warner Bros. logo appears at the top of Steven Soderbergh's male stripper saga, but despite that touch, the intrinsically provocative premise, and the maverick auteur's name at the helm, this is an oddly safe and chaste film. On one hand that seems to be the aim, for Soderbergh and writer Reid Carolin zero in less on the bumping and grinding than on the brotherly bonds within a group of Tampa exotic dancers, particularly that between the star attraction of the title, Mike (Tatum) and the new recruit, Adam (Alex Pettyfer, who's ability to keep getting work still baffles me) he takes under his wing. As long as Soderbergh keeps it light, the film is pleasantly diverting enough, but a late turn for would-be weightiness is as unconvincing as it is abrupt; after playing up the cheekiness (pun intended) of the vocation for most of the run time, it's a stretch to then paint the profession as some dark, dirty cesspool from which our noble hero must escape to salvage his soul.

Moreover, the third act, which won't be spoiled here, will make you roll your eyes given how it ties things up too neatly and quickly. Mike's character arc simply isn't plausible enough because, by the end, you don't really believe that he's changed innately--he starts out as an naive adult and pretty much stays like that throughout the film. Adam's sudden foray into world of drugs could have either been fleshed out more or edited out completely because there's already enough going on in terms of plot. On the plus side, Magic Mike has a strong director at the helm in Soderbergh. Although he tends to be uneven at times, here he gives the film a very stylish look in terms of camera angles, lighting, colors, and detached, observational storytelling -- it definitely feel like you're watching a "Soderbergh film." If only he made better editing decisions, though. He could have easily trimmed the running time down because, at a lengthy 2 hours, it does eventually drag and overstay its welcome once it starts to become dramatically flaccid around the 1-hour mark, sucking all of the momentum it started building.

All in all, a slight miss, but it could have been worse. Still, I look forward to the next film Soberbergh squeezes in before his "retirement."

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