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July 13, 2012

Reel Advice:
“Magic Mike” and “To Rome With Love”

BY
GREGG SHAPIRO

“Magic Mike” and “To Rome With Love”
"Magic Mike" (Focus), a movie about male strippers set in Tampa, Florida, has artful pretensions. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, and starring Channing Tatum as the titular stripper, as well as Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie, "Magic Mike" struts the line between comedy and drama, while tastefully grinding its pelvis in the face of the viewer.

When we first meet Mike (Tatum), he's on his way to a construction site. But he's as much a construction worker as David Hodo of the Village People was. At the site he recruits The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) as the latest member of his strip troupe. He doesn't actually come out and say that's what he's doing. First he lures him to a club filled with available young women, using him as bait for potential g-string stuffers.

“Magic Mike” and “To Rome With Love”
Once at the strip club, however, everything changes. After a brief locker-room initiation (not as erotic as it sounds), The Kid finds himself working for club owner and troupe leader Dallas (Matthew McConaughey at his sleaziest), doing odd jobs (none preceded by hand or blow). In a "42nd Street"-style turn of events, The Kid gets his big break and wows the crowd of horny suburban domestic goddesses.

But there are complications. The Kid's protective (and responsible) older sister Paige (Cody Horn), with whom he is living, doesn't approve of Mike or her brother's new career. Of course, Mike finds himself hopelessly attracted to Paige, but never manages to say the right things to her. The Kid gets tangled up in drug dealing intrigue. Dallas has big plans to relocate the club to Miami, but some of the dancers' questionable behavior threatens the move.

The worst thing that can be said about "Magic Mike," aside from the fact that it is lacking in magic, is that for a movie about male strippers, it's shockingly unsexy. Tatum is a first rate dancer, and he's a joy to gaze upon, but his acting skills still leaves something to be desired. It's a wonder there's any scenery left after McConaughey is on-screen and with the exception of Pettyfer, Horn and Olivia Munn (as Mike bi-gal-pal Joanna), the rest of the cast, including gorgeous, newly out and actor Matt Bomer, aren't given much or enough to do.

Related: Interview with Joe Manganiello

“Magic Mike” and “To Rome With Love”
"To Rome With Love" (Sony Pictures Classics): The most consistent aspect of Woody Allen's21st century output is how inconsistent it is. It's hard to believe that the same man who won an Oscar for writing "Midnight in Paris" could be responsible for a tired and drab exercise such as "To Rome With Love." And yet, this is the pattern Allen has established for this century. Starting off on a high note with "Small Time Crooks," he next delivered the cursed "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion." Then came the hilarious "Hollywood Ending," followed by the dismal "Anything Else" and "Melinda and Melinda."

When Allen got serious, as he did with the striking "Match Point," he failed to live up to that potential with his next drama, the D.O.A. "Cassandra's Dream." And so on, through the stellar comedies "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Midnight In Paris," which were intertwined with the dreadful "Whatever Works" and "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."

“Magic Mike” and “To Rome With Love”
Lazy and only occasionally vaguely funny, "To Rome With Love" relies too much on improvisation, completely wasting a talented cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page. Once the master of the overlapping storylines, Allen, who looks more ill at ease on screen than ever, has completely lost control here. Rome gets a fraction of the love he previously showed Paris onscreen. The sightseeing scenes feel too familiar, forced and self-consciously self-referential.

Young American tourist Hayley (an out of her league Alison Pill) encounters Italian lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) whose brief stint as a tour-guide rapidly develops into something more. Hayley meets and wins over Michelangelo's family including his opera-singing undertaker father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) and mother Sofia (Monica Nappo). Hayley's neurotic retired father Jerry (Allen) and psychiatrist mother Phyllis (Davis) arrive soon after to meet their future son-in-law and his famiglia.

Concurrent stories include that of architect John (Baldwin), who encounters younger architect Jack (Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). John's function appears to be an embodiment of Jack's conscience. Jack and Sally's world is about to be rocked by the arrival of Sally's newly single friend, self-centered actress Monica (Page). Monica, who admits to experimenting with lesbianism (an obvious source of titillation for Allen), is still reeling from being dumped by her gay ex-boyfriend, whom she was convinced she could change. Although it's not possible, it's conceivable that Monica made him gayer than he already was.

Italian office worker Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is propelled from his ho-hum job and home life when he, inexplicably, becomes a media celebrity. If this is Allen's comment on fleeting fame, it's sorely lacking. Young Italian newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) arrive in Rome from their small town ready to conquer the big city, but the big city has other plans for them. Milly, lost on the streets of Rome, accidentally drops her mobile in a sewer, but is saved by an actor shooting a film nearby. Antonio, on the other hand, becomes a victim of mistaken identity, in a convoluted plot twist involving prostitute Anna (Penelope Cruz) and his conservative relatives.

Worst of all is that for a country so famous for its cuisine, Allen pays very little attention to food. A joke about tapenade ends with a formaldehyde punchline. Everything gets the short shrift here but opera (yawn) and if that joke was funnier than it would have deserved all the screen time that it gets. Let's hope that Allen, currently in his late 70s, has many more years and better movies ahead of him. It would be a shame, after all, if the unlovable "To Rome With Love" was his last movie.

 
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