Monday, July 16, 2012

Review(s): "Magic Mike" + "2 Days in New York"

Magic Mike dir. Steven Soderbergh
 Whatever doubts there might have been about Steven Soderbergh's foray into the world of stripping-centric movies, you can stop worrying: it's not Showgirls. The uber-efficient director's latest outing may focus on the world of male strippers and even include a character named Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), but there's a significant distinction between Mike and a certain Paul Verhoeven-directed train wreck. Soderbergh's film never indulges in the elements of sleaze. It observes them, but never turns them into moments of trashy exploitation.

Based on star Channing Tatum's actual experiences as a male stripper before his acting career (which, at this very moment, is looking pretty damn bright), Magic Mike follows a clear trajectory. Experienced stripper Mike (Tatum) takes on a newbie (Alex Pettyfer), who falls into some less-than-admirable tendencies. As a film and as a simple morality tale, there's little here that surprises. What matters are the details that make up the story's setting, and thankfully the movie comes through, albeit only modestly. 

For all that the film does right - its characterization, its humor - there are any number of other aspects that don't quite stick the landing, namely the pacing. Clocking in at roughly two hours, there are times when Magic Mike feels repetitive and devoid of development. The flow of scenes can feel bumpy, which makes Pettyfer's moral failings feel rushed and a tad contrived. The cast, thankfully, are quite game. Tatum, already having a solid year with Haywire and 21 Jump Street (I've seen both but have yet to review the latter...), impresses yet again with a nice, understated sense of charisma that cuts through his slightly thickheaded appearance. Supporting roles are energetic, though most get little to do outside of Pettyfer and a wonderfully smarmy Matthew McConaughey (also have quite a nice year, along with his work in Bernie and Mud). I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Cody Horn's love interest, on the other hand. The character is fine, but the actress sometimes comes across as too sullen to the point where she seems deprived of screen presence. Still, on the whole you have to hand it to Soderbergh and company for cutting through the cheap surface appeal of the subject matter and churning out a decent character piece. There may be plenty of glistening abs on display, but Magic Mike remains grounded and never forgets to keep its characters front and center, and not just when they're taking their clothes off.

Grade: B-

2 Days in New York dir. Julie Delpy

A sequel to Delpy's hilarious 2 Days in Paris (2007), the writer/director's newest feature sadly doesn't quite measure up. Though it starts off on solid ground (barring an overly cutesy puppet theater intro), it quickly devolves into what 2 Days in Paris wasn't: exasperating and brimming with neuroses, but without the laughs. Rather than truly turn the tables and have Delpy meet her boyfriend's (now played by Chris Rock) family, she has her own family come over to disturb the new boyfriend. The result is that we're mostly getting the same sorts of interactions. Mingus (Rock) may not be as neurotic as Jack (Adam Goldberg), but he's being put through the same set of frustrations, as he's forced to adapt to French culture, even though he's on his own turf.

The performances are generally handled effectively, and Rock makes a nice straight man to offset the rest of the ensemble, but after a point it all becomes too much of the same, without the same amount of successful humor. Even Delpy seems off, and her character's constant frustration and apologies to Mingus sometimes feel too shrill. A decent attempt, but one that simply doesn't have the goods to justify itself. Your time is better spent simply watching 2 Days in Paris again.

Grade: C

No comments: