If it seems like Channing Tatum was made for the role of Mike Lane in Magic Mike, it’s because he was. Before he was the charmingly chiseled star of chick flicks, dramas, comedies and action movies, he spent some time on the stage of a Tampa strip club. And since this ultimate girls-night-out indulgence is about an exotic dancer starring in a male revue at a Tampa strip club, this truly is the role Tatum was meant to play (mostly because he already has).
But as is the case with most strippers (male or female), dancing is just a means to an end for Mike, who hopes to utilize his talents as a furniture designer to get out of the club world before it’s too late (and before he’s too old). And when he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a good-looking kid struggling to secure an income while freeloading off his sister (Cody Horn), it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Adam replaces Mike (already in his 30s, which is ancient in this world) as the star of the show. It looks like one big cheesy cliché, and it is in many ways. But somehow it’s not as gratuitous as it seems, with intriguing characters and plot that have depth while remaining superficial enough for those looking for a bachelorette party without needing a stack of ones.
What I didn’t realize before seeing Magic Mike is that it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh, who previously worked with Tatum on 2011′s Haywire (read my review here). And just as he’s done with the Ocean’s Eleven series, Traffic and other films, he handles this ensemble cast (Matthew McConaughey, Matt Borner, Joe Manganiello, Gabriel Iglesias, Adam Rodríguez, Kevin Nash) rather adeptly. But given the subject matter, Magic Mike strikes a balance between comedic ridiculousness and the grim realities of a man who works odd jobs by day, but whose professional life (and social/sexual escapades) revolves around a dangerous and empty lifestyle.
That being said, Magic Mike never falls into the typical stripper movie trappings of getting too depressing. Sure, Adam (usually referred to simply as “The Kid”) gets caught up in the lifestyle while also becoming the favorite of Dallas (McConaughey), the former dancer now running the show. And while Mike’s charm allows him to work such magic as the occasional threesome with his regular booty call (Olivia Munn) and working roomfuls of horny women into a frenzy, he struggles to maintain any meaningful relationships or achieve his real creative passion. But we’re still talking about male strippers here, so even if seeing a guy shave his legs for the first time and put on a patriotic thong wasn’t funny enough on its own, Soderbergh and his cast deliver such scenes with enough lighthearted comic relief to counter the otherwise depressing reality of it all.
Not that most people will be paying much attention to him, but Nash‘s performance here is about as good as his last few in-ring showings (which is to say that he has a hard time keeping up with the moves of the much younger and more athletic guys around him). But given his character Tarzan’s obvious age difference and his predisposition for an occasional overindulgence, Tarzan’s tear-away pants fit Nash pretty well. And as the layers are gradually peeled off the nervous chemistry between Tatum and Horn, we see that opposites really do sometimes attract, especially when they realize they actually have similar interests (and not just a love for breakfast food). So don’t let Magic Mike‘s outer appearance fool you; once you see what’s underneath it’s a lot more than just hard bodies and fast living.
Magic Mike. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey and Cody Horn. Rated R. magicmikemovie.warnerbros.com.