Liz Smith: Matthew McConaughey — The Hot, Re-Invented Dazzler of "Magic Mike" (Not That We Don't Love Channing)

“SATIRE IS a lesson, parody is a game,” said Vladimir Nabokov.

IF A star lasts long enough, they all come to parody. Their familiar gestures, facial expressions, way of moving. Their personal life, too. Writers start to drop in little autobiographical bits with which the audience can identify.

This happened more back in the day, when stars were more individual personalities, less independent, had fewer opportunities after a certain age. For some, it became grotesque (Bette Davis.) For others it burnished their legend long after youth had fled (Katharine Hepburn.) For others it was simply fun (Elizabeth Taylor, who unveiled a whole array of crazy tics and brayed out line readings in her later years.) And for some, the parody became a noble iconic symbol. (John Wayne.)

Well, parody has come to Matthew McConaughey, and not a moment too soon.

Matthew was once a Hollywood golden boy, the next big thing. He received a hot Vanity Fair cover–not always a good sign—sometimes that honor is like winning an Oscar too early. He never quite lived up to the initial promise. In recent years he has become a poster boy for a certain kind of cheerful narcissism/exhibitionism. All that running around shirtless. And there was the laid back naked bongo-playing and pot smoking. It was amusing, but where was this actor going? He sure wasn’t getting any younger.

With the weekend release of Magic Mike now we know. Yes, this is Channing Tatum’s baby, loosely based on his brief teenage career as a stripper. And Mr. Tatum is very good — he seems to relax more with each movie. The movie itself, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is neither the cheesy flesh-bazaar so many were hoping for — though there’s plenty of flesh! Nor is it as satisfactorily dark as others expected. The two sides of the movie — both  appealing — don’t always mesh. (Stripper movies never quite get it right, except for the last 25 minutes of Gypsy.)

But Matthew, as the owner of the strip club, who still keeps a six-pack on hand just to show the youngsters how it’s done, is the real winner of Magic Mike. He’s a great big smirking, self-aware, funny version of the glossy magazine creature he’s become. He’s more spray-tanned, more cocky, and more stoned than he has ever been in public, but it comes across like an effortless non-performance, just a day in the life. And he also looks like he’s having a ball on screen.

Magic Mike looks great, the dance scenes are sensational. The other young men who take it off — Matt Bomer, Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello — are all excellent. There’s convincing work from some of the ladies, too, includingOlivia Munn. But the movie belongs to Matthew McConaughey. With the right scripts, he can ease right into middle age more appealing and certainly more interesting than when he was the perpetually perspiring lawyer in 1996’s A Time To Kill.

And as the deleted Stephen Sondheim song from Follies goes, “Can That Boy Fox Trot!”

P.S. Sitting in Hollywood today is a still remarkably handsome man, somewhere in his middle-years. He must be highly amused by all the Magic Mike hoopla. His name is Gregory Harrison. At the peak of his heartthrob fame on the series Trapper John, M.D. Gregory made a TV movie titled, For Ladies Only. He played a fairly innocent, down-on-his-luck actor who takes a job at a strip club more or less in desperation. Naturally, he’s a sensation (especially because his first performance is so innocently tentative.)  Then he gets caught up in “the life.” (Beast Master action star Marc Singer played the older, more jaded stripper, who warns the hero where it all ends up.)

In 1981, it was a sensation on television, going as far as they could back then. There’s nothing new under the sun, especially the Hollywood sun.

MAGIC MIKE did well at the box-office, but the champ was Ted a movie starring that remarkable re-inventor of his particular image, Mark Wahlberg. 

When I first saw the ads for the movie, I thought “Well Mark has really come full circle. Now’s he’s making a sweet children’s film with a teddy bear.”  Not quite. Wahlberg’s stuffed friend has a filthy mouth and is inappropriate in every way. Nobody remarks on the fact the bear can walk and talk, either. It’s directed by Seth MacFarlane of TV’s Family Guy.

I think that’s all I need say. The audience was rolling in the aisles. I was less active.

WELL, IF there is any truth to the screaming headlines that have Tom Cruise’s Scientology friends spying on his soon-to-be-ex, Katie Holmes, she can relax. If she twists her ankle accidentally, Tom and his pals will be blamed and crucified in the court of public opinion. I don’t see joint custody coming out of this one.

And, as already has been pointed out, all three of Tom’s marriages ended when the wife was 33.  This number apparently has meaning in Scientology. (Yeah, your number is up, honey!) Tom will be 50 years old today. That’s a significant number too. Especially for an actor. But, as this was the first time a wife filed against Tom, maybe he was willing to overlook the “33 thing.” If indeed such a thing exists.

Katie used to keep a poster of Tom on her wall when she was a teenager. Then she found a paper doll to call her own — in fact she had the real thing. Apparently, she discovered the real thing is often less entertaining than a wall decoration.

This column originally appeared on on 7/3/12

2 Responses so far.

  1. avatar ListeningLady says:

    Liz, Saw MAGIC MIKE last night with a sold out audience of all women+2 men. The men got rousing applause from the ladies as they waited for the start of what they and me thought would be pure entertainment. Instead we saw a strong movie that was a little choppy. It started out fun, but then dropped off in familiar TV fare of “dream gone a”—with the drugging and thugs. Yes, I thought Matthew McConaughey was great and very hot….but I was more interested in Channing Tatum’s performance. He has grown in his acting skills. My complaint with the movie was—I was lured in by trailers thinking it was an “eye candy” movie, and it was in the beginning, but then it switched and became darker and at times predictably boring. My feelings were mirrored by sister of the young man who became a stripper. Skepticism, her for her brother’s chosen job, me for turning myself over to disappointment for what I thought would be fun, and became sadly dark and not fun. Yeah, I’m glad I saw it, but like the characters, I also felt a little ripped off.

  2. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Magic Mike – I vacation in Las Vegas every year and when there I ALWAYS make it a point to see the Chippendales Show.  I think there is a huge difference between how women view male strippers and men view women strippers. The biggest difference I think (as the YouTube video illustrated) is that most (not all) but most of the male dancers are Gay.  Gay men with really hot bodies dancing before a throng of screaming women that they have no real desire to have sex with.

    I had been on pins and needles waiting for Magic Mike to open. I think all of the men in the movie are hot and Matthew’s body is just sick! I would be intiminated by a man like that nude in a bedroom with me! 🙂 And Channing……whoa!

    Ted – Seth McFarlane annoys me to no end. His shows are sophomoric and juvenile and yet…..I watch them and laugh like crazy. For that I despise him. He brings out a side of my personality I thought I had tucked away in the recesses of my mind, but darned if they don’t come out every time I watch one of his Fox shows. In what world is beastiality, pedophilia, sexism and racism funny? Yet his shows feature all of this on a regular basis and I laugh until I cry.

    The premise and storyline for Ted looks like it will be just as funny as his Fox shows, so I can’t wait to see it.

    Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes –   I NEVER wanted these two to get married because I could see they were entering into a marraige for all the wrong reasons. When I watched an interview Katie gave in which she said “When I was young….a teenager…I use to have Tommy’s pictures on my bedroom walls….I told myself one day I was going to marry him…” I almost threw up!  There is so much wrong about that statement.

    And then we had Tom’s bizarre reaction to falling in love that smacked of unrealistic expectations to the nth degree! Then it started comin out about how controlling he was and I thought poor Katie Holmes…….

    It’s never a good thing to root for the demise of a relationship but in this instance…..yeah! Now Katie can be a woman on her own terms and live life as SHE wants. And Tom….let’s see who the next young, naive and impressionable starlet he will jump up and down on a sofa for this time. 🙂