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. The casting does most of the work in this very entertaining dramedy set in the world of male exotic dancers.
From the moment McConaughey, as the veteran owner of the Xquisite Dance Revue, struts onstage to introduce his ensemble 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.
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 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 dropout whom 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, David’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.
The film showcases the dancers — the funny-beefsteak Joe Manganiello stands out in the supporting crew. And it sells the fantasy. For a while.
Then the dark side shows up, the easy access to drugs, the fleeting nature of the career, the sleazy way employees are treated by the “entrepreneurs” who run such revues.
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 stripping forever.
But McConaughey is the spark here, preening, amusing, but suggesting the dark side of the business. 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, though adequate, struggles to make an impression with a cliched character.
But Soderbergh, Tatum and McConaughey 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 guys, too.