Is “Magic Mike” the best movie about Channing Tatum as a stripper that could have been made? It’s possible. Director Steven Soderbergh somehow maintains a loose, goofy charm throughout the movie without descending into camp. Yes, there are a lot of naked people in this movie, but the casual treatment of the nudity eventually works. These people don’t wear a lot of clothing, but why would they? They’re a group of strippers living in a hot climate.
I’ll admit, I’m not too familiar with the Channing Tatum oeuvre. I mostly think of him as that beefy guy from “G.I. Joe.” As the titular Mike, he has a kind of big brotherly charm. Life seems pretty great for him. He has a few different jobs, a large and attractive house, and near limitless attention from women. Mike may be the hottest stripper in town, but he’s not just a stripper! No, he wants to sell designer furniture. He’s a stripper/entrepreneur, he says, but the banks are not too keen to take a chance on his new business.
Mike takes the young and somewhat useless Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing after Adam gets fired for taking an extra soda at their construction gig. Adam is only 19, but he’s already washed out of a football program. He’s living on his sister’s couch and doesn’t have particularly good answers for her questions about future employment. Enter Mike, with his fun lifestyle and well of answers. Adam can’t believe his luck.
The only thing slowing Adam’s ascent to stripper greatness is that killjoy sister, Brooke, played by Cody Horn. Horn is apparently a graduate of the Kristen Stewart School of Affectless Acting, but without Stewart’s weird ability to make that seem compelling. The character has to serve as a buzzkill to keep the plot going, with Mike wanting to prove to her that he’s more than a piece of meat, but I’m not sure why she has to be such a pill about everything.
Brooke is pretty rude to Mike from the beginning. Stripping may not be a career you can have your whole life, but that’s no reason to be rude to a group of friendly naked people. Excuse me, friendly people. Her concerns about the lifestyle of the stripping world are ultimately accurate, but her constant disapproval prevents her from being a more compelling character. I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether or not stripping is empowering for the strippers, but on the upside, Adam finds a job he’s good at and then works hard to be better.
The movie’s main argument revolves around whether Mike is his lifestyle or not. If he isn’t, why is he still living that life? His evolution on this concept is a bit quick, but the movie wisely doesn’t ask us to believe that he’s going to have an easy time finding something else to do. Nor does it come up with easy solutions for when Adam will quit being such a nitwit.
In other words,“Magic Mike” is not as bad as you imagine it is. Points off for one-note female characters who all fall into one of the following three categories: heartless, personality-free or disapproving.
Other pleasures of the movie include Matthew McConaughey playing the puppet master of the male stripping world. This movie provides an opportunity for him to embrace the sleaziness that is the flip side of his usual rom-com charm. And yes, you do eventually get to see him do one of the routines the other strippers, a who’s who of TV actors, have been performing. It’s sort of gratifying to see a movie that acknowledges these actors are not shaped like normal humans. In fact, they are all shaped like male strippers.