Let’s be clear — dudes without shirts (and occasionally pants) is what sells this movie. I’m sure the women in the theater where I saw this movie enjoyed the character development and the surprisingly solid performances, but I’m guessing, based on the giggles and the whistles, they were there for the beefcake.
Mike (Channing Tatum) works in construction and is trying to get some other businesses off the ground — detailing, custom furniture, something with cell phones. But his real money-maker comes three nights a week when he dances on the stage at the male strip show where he goes by the name Magic Mike. Dallas (an extra oily Matthew McConaughey), his boss, hosts a show featuring half-a-dozen regulars including Ken (Matt Bomer of White Collar fame) and Richie (Joe Manganiello, Alcide of True Blood fame), all of whom clean up by giving the women of Tampa something to whoop and throw dollar bills at.
While working as a roofer, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a bit of a lost soul. A recent college dropout, Adam sleeps on the couch of his sister Brooke (Cody Horn), a medical technician who has her life together. Adam gets himself fired from the construction job, but Mike gets him a temporary gig keeping track of the props the guys use during the show. Of course, one of the dancers flakes out before the end of the show, Dallas needs someone to go out and do something anything and, faster than you can say chest wax, Adam is awkwardly dancing in front of a screaming crowd.
Money and flash impress everybody in Mike’s life except Brooke. She isn’t thrilled Mike brought her brother into this world and is leery about what the easy money, sex and drugs will do to him. While Mike continues the nonstop party that his existence has become, he starts to find himself longing for something more.
Just as Moonrise Kingdom is very Wes Anderson-y, Magic Mike is very Soderbergh-y, particularly in the way it’s shot. The movie gets us into the mind of Mike while also standing apart, giving us room to consider (and judge, even) his life and the whole spectacle of the strip shows. The movie presents its characters in a way that gives us a chance to consider their lives and their place on the angelic-to-sleazy continuum. But then it also puts us in the audience, puts us in league with the cheering women. There is a coolness and a slight smirk to the movie — Soderbergh traits whether the action is a worldwide pandemic (Contagion) or a cops-and-robbers romance (Out of Sight).
Yes, the men of Magic Mike are very attractive — Tatum, of course, but also most definitely Bomer and Manganiello. And yes, it’s nice to see some objectified dudes once in a while. But pull your eyes from the pecs and glutes because there are also some nice performances going on. Tatum does a good job making Mike a guy who understands the game and has a sense of humor about his life but also sees the need for a life beyond adoration and parties. He also does a good job making the “show” half of the strip show believable. I forgot that one of his early movies was the dancetastic Step Up (and according to the Internet, Tatum did some stripping in real life). An extended sequence here where he dances helps establish his character as someone who enjoys the performance aspect of what he does, not just the applause and the cash.
Also somewhat layered (or, at least, layered enough to keep it from feeling like a waste of time) is the relationship between Mike and Brooke. Horn gives a very natural performance that is a nice juxtaposition from the overly glossy personalities of the stripping men.
Magic Mike is a fun concept (hot dudes! naked!) that also happens to be a smart little character study. B
Rated R for the obvious, but also for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use. Directed by Steven Soderbergh with a screenplay by Reid Carolin, Magic Mike is an hour and 50 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros.