First (because we know it’s on your mind): The Channing Tatum male-stripper movie is filled with male stripping. Tons of it. With the exception of one backstage shocker of a close-up, you don’t get the full monty—but maybe something even better. These choreographed dance numbers, set to pumping remixes of “Like a Virgin” and, unavoidably, “It’s Raining Men,” are hilariously unsubtle. Never is an opportunity lost for an assless-chapped cowboy or a trench-crawling soldier to perform a crotch thrust; pants are removed with a magician’s bold flourish. For these sequences alone, Magic Mike connects on a screamingly funny level, and not just for wayward bachelorettes.
This being a Steven Soderbergh movie—he of the overstated “retirement” and reinvigorated craft (Contagion, Haywire)—it’s also a beautiful piece of straightforward storytelling, burnished with golden-hued cinematography and snappy cutting. Our hero, Mike (Tatum, who spawned the script from his own experiences), is the aging, unsatisfied star of a nightly revue; lanky Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a jobless drifter, is drafted into the squad, thrilling to the female adoration and druggy edges of the scene. There’s an unusually fine sense of money anxiety, from Mike’s seedy ’70s-style beach house in Tampa and construction day work to the routine of counting all those single-dollar bills and plunging them into “equity”—a relocation to Miami is the dream.
You know where this is all going. If Magic Mike doesn’t quite attain the hedonistic stature of twin cautionary tales Boogie Nights and the campy Showgirls, it can’t be faulted for wanting to satisfy on a deeper level. Meanwhile, didn’t Soderbergh notice there was pathos enough in Matthew McConaughey’s beefcake proprietor, an ab-slapping, spandexed Peter Pan? Between this role and his owlish DA in the subversively sly Bernie, the actor has finally found a way to subvert his six-pack. He’s the magic here.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf