While making the movie “Haywire,” director Steven Soderbergh overheard actor Channing Tatum talking about his days as a male stripper in Tampa, Fla.
Thinking a movie lay somewhere in Tatum’s exploits, Soderbergh encouraged him to proceed and Tatum had his production partner, Reid Carolin, hammer out a screenplay. Then faster than you could say, “it’s raining men,” Soderbergh was directing and Tatum was staring in the surprisingly heartfelt and slyly subversive movie, “Magic Mike.”
The plot is simple and straightforward as it follows your basic “A Star is Born” story arc and in anyone else’s hands “Magic Mike” would have likely been all style and no substance. But Soderbergh colors freely in the margins and delivers a movie that’s a little darker and a little deeper than all the glittery thongs would suggest.
Tatum stars as the titular Magic Mike, the main attraction (thanks mostly to Tatum’s mad dancing skills) at a dingy little club in Tampa. Working alongside guys with names like Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Big ahem Richie (Joe Manganiello), Mike lives a Peter Pan lifestyle while quietly nurturing an entrepreneurial dream of starting a custom furniture company.
Mike takes new recruit Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, but in spite of Mike’s best efforts, Adam sinks deeper and deeper into a world of sex, drugs, and general exploitation.
All of this takes place under the watchful eye of Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, in what just might be a career performance), the morally corrupt club owner who manages this band of muscle-bound men.
Dallas perfectly embodies the absurd decadence that surrounds these characters, right down to his wonderfully trashy, shirtless portrait — complete with a rattlesnake hanging around his neck — he proudly displays in his home. One of these should be hanging over every fireplace in America.
As you would expect, Mike doesn’t have a lot of stable relationships in his life. The best he can hope for is someone like Joanna (Olivia Munn), who sees Mike as little more than a regular booty call.
Mike finds hope for a better life with Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), but has to overcome the animosity she feels for Mike introducing her little brother to his wild and shallow lifestyle.
While “Magic Mike” is being clearly marketed to women and gay men, the target audience for this film might actually be heterosexual males. What straight guy hasn’t, at some point, fantasized about a life of easy cash and minimal responsibilities, all while being the center of attention in a roomful of screaming women?
Of course, Soderbergh peels back the layers of this fantasy and reveals some ugly realities and while this movie has a lot of fun moments and some legitimate laughs, it doesn’t flinch when it takes us to some dark places.
With such a candid look at dysfunctional sexuality, it could be argued that Soderbergh is mirroring his breakout film, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” I also think by taking an almost documentarian approach to showing a very insular world where men depend on their bodies to make money, “Magic Mike” also plays out like a less-bleak version of “The Wrestler.”
Either way, Soderbergh has constructed a movie that is way better than it has any right to be. “Magic Mike” falls way, way short of being profound, but it is compelling, which is not a word I ever thought I would ever use when describing a male-stripper movie.
“Magic Mike” is rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language, and some drug use.