Channing Tatum's juicy male stripper romp, "Magic Mike," boasts more six-packs than a tailgate party, sensationally enjoyable choreography and a dash of romance. It's a lighthearted girls' night out movie and a funhouse mirror turned on American sexual attitudes and economic anxieties. Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar-winning director of "Traffic" and "Sex, Lies and Videotape," gives the audience its money's worth -- a front-row view of some architecturally outstanding male bodies --while slipping in subversive ideas almost subliminally.
The film is a semi-autobiographical sketch of the period when Abercrombie & Fitch model-turned-actor Tatum performed in a ladies' exotic dance club. He carries the film with an aw-shucks clowning flair that works beautifully on camera. Tatum plays Mike, a Tampa hunk who works in construction, auto detailing and as a dancer at Xquisite.
He's second banana to the club's owner/emcee Dallas (Matthew McConaughey in full-on self-parody mode), who is preparing to relocate his operation to the big time in Miami. Mike doesn't want to be grinding onstage at 40, like some of his peers.
Mike's goal is designing custom furniture, but it's hard to land a bank loan when your income is wadded dollar bills. He meets 19-year-old airhead Adam (Alex Pettyfer) at the construction site, taking "the kid" under his wing and initiating him into the fraternity of tear-away pants. More important, he comes with an Attractive Sister Who Provides Useful Romantic Complications (Cody Horn). Uncertain whether she's more intrigued or appalled, she chides Mike for bringing Adam into this thicket of temptation, while slowly warming to the big guy. "My lifestyle isn't me!" Mike protests, and you can tell he realizes how lame that sounds as soon as he declares it.
The film is another canny move by Tatum, who admirably avoids pigeonhole roles. He's most convincing in this sort of self-effacing good guy role. He flirts wearing a spaniel expression, and makes Mike a scalawag rather than a lech.
The surface topic of "Magic Mike" is lust and love and the gaping chasm between physical and emotional intimacy. At heart, however, it's all about the Benjamins. The story is a well-thought-out essay on our topsy-turvy, economically stressed era.
Tatum's character is well into young adulthood, with middle age on the horizon; he won't be a sex grenade forever. Seeing him monkey-dance around the stage in pursuit of crumpled dollar bills is sad on so many levels. Dallas, who has been in the game longer, has learned to fake caring for his customers and dancers, but his smile always has money on its mind. Offstage the dancers talk about self-help books like "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," and Dallas says if he had a kid he would home-school him on nonstop telecasts of "Mad Money."
With "Magic Mike," Soderbergh's aiming to heal the rift between audience-pleasing pop movies and cinematic movies, and he succeeds beyond expectations.