It’s no great stretch to imagine the chiseled, hot-footed hottie Channing Tatum as a stripper. It’s how he got his start in show business, after all.
And even though he never danced for his dollars, Matthew McConaughey has never been shy about shedding a shirt on the big screen.
But that’s the simple genius of Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike,” a fictionalized spin on Tatum’s pre-Hollywood years in Florida, taking it off for ladies who stuffed tips into his thong. The casting does most of the work in this very entertaining dramedy set in the sexy/seedy world of male exotic dancers.
From the moment McConaughey, as the veteran owner of the Xquisite Dance Revue, struts onstage to introduce his ensemble and tell the ladies “what you can ... and canNOT touch,” we know we’re in good, um, hands. Soderbergh’s direction here is like stripping itself, the selling of a fantasy, a tease. It’s only as the film progresses that the sobering reality of living in this sordid world is stripped bare.
Tatum has the title role. By day, he’s a hustler — working as an off-the-books roofer, running a mobile car-detailing business, living in a beachfront split-level where he’s as likely to wake up with two naked women as one.
That’s because by night he is “Magic” Mike, the break-dancing star of the Xquisite Dance Revue. He’s living the good life. It’s a pity that all his businesses are cash-only. At 30, he’s got no credit, no prayer of getting a loan to run the business that is his first love, hand-crafted design.
Enter Adam, aka “The Kid” (Alex Pettyfer), a hunky college drop-out who Mike takes under his wing. The Kid doesn’t realize what Mike means when he says “You OWE me” as he gets him into a club. Next thing Adam knows, he’s helping Mike hustle birthday girls into the strip club. After that, Adam’s up on stage, a virgin doing his first awkward striptease. The money rolls in and the lazy Adam realizes the REAL American Dream: he’s getting paid just for being pretty.
So what if his nurse’s aide sister (Cody Horn) doesn’t approve? Not that she’s a prude. She just senses danger.
Soderbergh, working from Reid Carolin’s script, revels in the backstage “making of a stripper” scenes, as The Kid is trained to do the Ken Doll routine, the GI Joe strip, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” the trench-coat and umbrella “It’s Raining Men” number.
And in his face, taunting the shy out of him, is Dallas, given a searing swagger by McConaughey.
“What are you, a 12-year-old in the locker room?” he teases. Put some salesmanship into that bump and grind. “You are fulfilling every woman’s wildest fantasies!”
The film showcases the dancers — the funny-beefsteak Joe Manganiello stands out in the supporting crew. And it sells the fantasy. For a while. The club patrons are young and gorgeous and beddable. The hours allow for enjoying the sun and fun as “The Kings of Tampa.”
And then the dark side shows up: the easy access to drugs, the “real” women who frequent such clubs (plain Janes, over 40, not supermodel skinny) — one dancer throws his back out lifting one onstage. There’s the fleeting nature of the career, the sleazy way employees are treated by the “entrepreneurs” who run such revues. Soderberg doesn’t pretty up Tampa, either, sending everybody out for a “sand-bar party” on the dull-brown waters of Tampa Bay, suggesting how easy it would be to leave all that behind.
Tatum is spot-on, conflicted and perfect in the part. Mike is smart enough to know he can’t get by on his looks and his stripping forever. He’s ready to leave behind his “friend with benefits” (Olivia Munn) for the plainer and testier Brooke.
But McConaughey is the spark here, preening, amusing, but suggesting the dark side of the business and the only possible future for those who stay in it — alone, with lots of ready cash but no self-respect, a guy who has to take advantage of the next generation the way he was probably taken advantage of. McConaughey takes his hipster-revival preacher, butt-slapping jock persona to the next level here, hinting that maybe all this dirty talk, getting up in his dancers’ business in the dressing room, is a closet door he’s hiding behind.
“Magic Mike” drifts into melodrama, and Pettyfer (“I Am Number Four”), though adequate, struggles to make an impression with a character that is little more than a cliche.
But Soderbergh, Tatum and McConaughey strip this world of glitter and body oils. They let us know that for all the supposed fringe benefits, these guys work hard for the money, and that creating every woman’s fantasy takes a lot of fantasizing on the part of the boys toy, too.