Magic Mike star Channing Tatum has finally found a role he's suited for: himself.
The chiseled 32-year-old was a stripper in a club for a year in the Tampa Bay area before he turned to the more respectable profession of acting, which has now led him to play a stripper.
Tatum must have been exceptionally talented at the former job, because he's surprisingly good as Magic Mike, the star attraction at a Tampa club.
Mike strips at night and works construction during the day to save money to launch a custom furniture business. Not only is he handsome, he's also driven and responsible, two qualities sorely lacking in Adam (Alex Pettyfer), whom Mike meets on a construction job.
Adam is drifting through life and jobs, and lives with his sister. She sees him as slacker who needs to grow up, while Mike sees stage potential in Adam, and the strip club's owner, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), himself a former male dancer, takes the kid on as a project.
The film's plot is transparent: we know as soon as Adam takes the job it's a matter of time before he gets caught up in the lifestyle cliches that come with being a stripper. Mike promised Adam's straight-laced sister Brooke (Cody Horn) he would take care of her brother, but he gets distracted by relationship problems. He wants more than casual sex with a club customer (Olivia Munn), who has no use for him other than the occasional plaything; she comically dismisses him at one point, offering the advice: "You don't need to talk. Just look pretty." Mike has also developed a crush on Brooke, who is equally attracted to him, but repulsed by the lifestyle. Ultimately, Magic Mike plays out mostly how you think it will, but it really doesn't matter. The script by Reid Carolin is the framework for an entertaining character and vocation study.
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The movie's plot is less essential to the film's target audience than what Tatum and the other stars bring to the screen. Fans of Tatum and McConaughey will not leave the theater disappointed, as they and the other actors strip away any inhibitions.
Magic Mike and the other dancers are about seduction and fantasy to the women in the audience; muscled, sweaty men dancing in Tarzan loincloths, cowboy chaps, and military uniforms to carefully choreographed routines of suggestive grinds, and slow, rhythmic stripping. Magic Mike is the movie equivalent to the ABC era of Jiggle TV in the late 1970s, where characters, storylines, acting, and direction were afterthoughts to the prime-time entertainment of sex.
And while even the best-acted and best-scripted pornographic film never lets a story get in the way of a sex scene, Magic Mike never lets you forget it's not a deep drama either, no matter how serious the film's aspirations. Relationship troubles and drug abuse are familiar plot devices. The real magic of Magic Mike is in its behind-the-scenes peek at the unfamiliar, with backstage access to the dancers' dressing room warm-ups, while shopping for stage outfits, and working out new routines.
Director Steven Soderbergh, who also handled the cinematography as he often does in his movies, isn't afraid to get intimate and creative with the camera angles, drawing us in closer to the sometimes in-your-face performances, or backing up enough to make us feel like we're only a few rows from the stage. If you have an aversion to the male anatomy, Magic Mike isn't the film for you.
This may be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical release, now that the director has openly discussed his retiring or taking a sabbatical from moviemaking.
Either way, Magic Mike makes for a nice stopping point or pause in a busy and nearly 30-year career. While it may not be Oscar material, the movie is undeniably entertaining and surprisingly funny. It's also proof that Tatum can act ... even if he is playing himself.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Reid Carolin. A Warner Bros. release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language, and some drug use. Running time: 110 min.
Critic’s rating: * * *
Magic Mike ..................Channing Tatum
Dallas............... Matthew McConaughey
Adam ................................ Alex Pettyfer
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.