WIth “Magic Mike,” director Steven Soderbergh and star Channing Tatum have concocted an easygoing and unexpectedly enjoyable look at the odd business of selling male skin — an honest and nonjudgmental movie about sex, commerce, ambition, fun, and all the ways they conflict and intertwine.
The story, drawn from Mr. Tatum’s own real-life experience as an 18-year-old male exotic dancer, is a conventional tale of ambition, success, and peril, but it’s nicely drawn and packed with small, human details: The movie takes place in a refreshingly realistic version of Tampa, Fla. — most people have real jobs, for example, like processing Medicaid payments or property insurance claims — rather than one of the catalog-perfect urban fantasylands that now seem to dominate the big screen.
Mr. Tatum plays Mike, a successful male stripper and entrepreneurial dabbler who adopts Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a new recruit to his stripping team. Working alongside Mike and under the tutelage of Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), Adam quickly becomes a sensation. But success, as always, brings risks as well as rewards.
Yet the movie declines to dwell on the risks or unduly moralize about the protagonists’ choices. When Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) asks about the profession’s allure, Mike’s answer is simple, direct and true: “He’s 19 years old. There’s women, money, and a good time.” The movie’s strippers treat their bodies as a tool — for them, it’s an instrument of pleasure and commerce, often both at the same time.
Hollywood makes a habit of objectifying young and perfect female bodies, but “Magic Mike” often seems intended as a counterweight to this practice: It goes out of its way to gaze at a heightened, impossible version of the male form, showcasing Mr. Tatum and his male co-stars in various states of undress. Mr. Soderbergh shoots the male actors in loving full-body detail, accentuating their physical perfection, but captures the equally beautiful Miss Horn in relatively modest close-ups.
More than anything, the movie should be a star-making turn from Mr. Tatum, who, as in “21 Jump Street,” proves immensely appealing and funny. But here he shows he can take on more challenging material: Much of the dialogue has a loose, improvised feel, and Mr. Tatum manages an impressive naturalism in both casual conversation and more conventionally dramatic scenes. A long, stuttered apology monologue he delivers toward the film’s end is impressive not because of what’s said — it consists mostly of ums and ahs and unfinished sentences — but because of how he says it.
It’s a revealing performance that gives viewers the opportunity to see an awful lot of Mr. Tatum. Here’s hoping that in the future we get to see an awful lot more.
TITLE: “Magic Mike”
CREDITS: Directed bySteven Soderbergh; written by Reid Carolin
RATING: R for nudity, sex, drug use, extended strip-club routines, profanity, innuendo
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS