(by Dustin Putman
Women are so prevalently objectified on film that it's nice to see the tables turned in "Magic Mike," male strippers working their ample assets to the screams, swoons, and tossed dollar bills of the salivating female clientele. Loosely based on the real-life experiences of actor Channing Tatum (2012's "21 Jump Street"), who briefly worked as a stripper when he was eighteen, the film should gain a bit of attention if for nothing more than the swirling abs, ripped biceps, and teeny-tiny G-strings on display. Director Steven Soderbergh (2011's "Contagion") and writer Reid Carolin lend the project a fly-on-the-wall quality that explores its title character's day-in, day-out routine while being careful never to outwardly offend. It wants to be a cautionary tale, too, but the world of a Tampa ladies' club is neither as catty and back-stabbing as the Vegas-set burlesque acts in 1995's more campy, more entertaining "Showgirls" nor as seedy and perilous as the porn industry of 1997's altogether outstanding "Boogie Nights." Softer than expected but more involving than some may be anticipating, "Magic Mike" squeaks by on its own low-key, sneakily perceptive accord. Article continues below
An entrepreneur at heart, 30-year-old Mike (Channing Tatum) has his hands in many different pursuits: he has his own upstart mobile detailing business, he works for a roofing & tiling company, and he dreams of one day designing furniture. By night, there's just one other job he has, performing as the head dancer at male strip club Xquisite. When Mike meets directionless 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) at one of his roofing assignments, he sees in him a young guy who, much like himself around that age, doesn't quite know what to do with his life. Nicknaming him "The Kid," Mike drags Adam along to Xquisite. Before the night is out, owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) has allowed him to perform. Adam is a pure amateur, but Dallas sees undeniable potential in him. Feeling responsible, Mike promises Adam's concerned older sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), that he'll keep an eye on him after he joins the ranks. When Dallas announces that his plan to move to a bigger venue in Miami has been greenlit, Mike is torn about whether or not he wants to go. Maybe it's time he started concentrating on his other goals. He can't be a stripper forever.
"Magic Mike" isn't necessarily slow so much as it is laid-back, setting up all of its central characters and unhurriedly watching as they work things out. For Mike, his nighttime profession is one that he's not ashamed about, but also not something that he likes to define him. He's been through the period where it was all new and exciting and is now basically going through the paces. By contrast, Adam is where Mike once was. As a newbie who sees for the first time what kind of allure and control he can have over an audience just by taking his clothes off, it seems like there's no other place for him. With this newfound, albeit centralized fame, however, comes some irresponsible decisions. When he loses a stash of ecstasy intended for selling, he finds himself $10,000 in the hole—an amount of money he doesn't have, but Mike does. Adam's own recreational drug use also seems to be getting out of hand by the end, but at a certain point, Mike and Brooke understand that Adam is an adult now and will do what he wants to do. Best case scenario: he'll end up where Mike is in ten years, contemplating if there's something more out there for him.
If Channing Tatum is the veritable headliner of the film and Alex Pettyfer (2011's "Beastly") his hunky, blank-slate protégé, then Cody Horn (2010's "Flipped") is the even-headed standout, a voice of reason that anyone would want to listen to because she's just so irresistible. In what should be her breakthrough role, Horn plays Brooke as a young woman who prides herself on her intelligence over her beauty (though she is awfully pretty, too), yet is quick-witted and fun-loving enough to have a good time. What she doesn't like is being brought down, or seeing those she cares about suffer the same fate. With brother Adam, there is only so much she can do before she has to let go. With Mike, a possibility for a relationship is threatened because of the different places they are in their lives. Brooke is not about to bend on her morals to appease someone, but she also doesn't want to be a nag who forces Mike into doing what he doesn't want to do. He has to arrive at that decision himself. Tatum has a great body and he knows how to use it on the dance floor, but the actor also has demonstrated here and in the past that there is more to him than that as an actor. For Pettyfer, who never imitated a tree stump he didn't like, his role of Adam actually works for him because the character is so impressionable yet monotone. It is Horn, though, who runs away with her scenes, giving scope and complexity to what could have easily been a relatively thankless role. Also very good, if too close to himself for comfort: Matthew McConaughey (2012's "Bernie") as Dallas, whose "all right, all right, all right" Southern charm one cannot help but kind of love. A scene where Dallas trains Adam on how to shake his hips and pop his crotch might give randy women and gay men the world over a case of heatstroke.
"Magic Mike" heads into familiar territory by the second half, lessening its entertaining stage time for the melodrama happening behind it. Not hard-hitting enough to make a bigger impact, audiences will have to be pleased with the mere ripple it creates, inviting onlookers into a professional milieu not often explored on film. Watching it, Channing Tatum gives Mike enough sympathetic layers that he's worth caring about, and his kinda-sorta romance with Brooke sparks with chemistry even if no more than a solitary kiss ever passes between them. That's enough, though, since director Steven Soderbergh sees Xquisite as where the true action is at. For those who've waited too long to see cinema treat the male specimen as the piece of meat women are so frequently gazed up as, "Magic Mike" does nothing if not even the playing field.