You might expect a movie about strippers to be either a glossy Hollywood fantasy or a gritty, sour, documentary. The surprise of “Magic Mike” is that it avoids both extremes with an appealing naturalness and intimacy that softens but does not glamorize its setting.
It is inspired by the experiences of co-producer and star Channing Tatum as an exotic dancer before he broke through as an unexpectedly versatile actor (“Step Up,” “G.I. Joe,” “Dear John,” “21 Jump Street”). Equally versatile director Stephen Soderburgh (“Traffic,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “Oceans 11”) gently bumps the story a couple of degrees away from the sordid to keep things fun and even romantic. The big musical numbers are grander and more elaborate than anything you might actually see in a small Tampa club catering to sorority girls and bachelorette parties. But even when it gets debauched and dangerous, it is still kind of sweet. It has a bit of the sense of discovery of Robert Altman’s “The Company.” Plus, those guys have some moves. The dance numbers are a blast, witty, sexy, and very wooo-worthy.
Tatum plays Mike, a would-be entrepreneur who does a little of this and that (and wears very little of this and even less of that) as he tries to straighten out his financial situation so that he can pursue his dream of designing furniture. He meets a young college drop-out named Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and introduces him to the world of exotic dancing, from trolling bars to entice girls to come to the show to turning himself into the fantasy lover they love to be scandalized by. The owner is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who has promised Mike he will open up a big club in Miami and make Mike his partner. (Drinking game: take a shot every time McConaughey says “all right.”)
Adam lives with his sister Brooke, played by the very appealing Cody Horn, who has a wonderful easy chemistry with Tatum. So there is a classic structure, with Mike in the center between the hardened and cynical Dallas and the naive kid in a candy store Adam, drawn to the dream of a different life with Brooke. What takes this out of the category of fluff is the way the story is unaffectedly located in the reality of the economic struggles of the area and our time. Mike tries to persuade a bank loan officer to give him some money, shoving stacks of bills across her desk and not quite understanding that even though he is still selling, this transaction differs from the easy and sleazy environments he frequents. But she sees who he is. So does Brooke, and that helps him to see himself beyond the breakaway pants.
Parents should know that this story centers on male strippers with very suggestive dancing, skimpy costumes, male and female nudity, sexual references and situations, drinking, drug use and drug dealing.
Family discussion: Was Mike different from the other dancers? What made it difficult for him to achieve his goals?
If you like this, try: “The Full Monty” and “Step Up”