Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McCoughnahay
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”)
Written by: Reid Carolin (debut)

Channing Tatum is a beefcake. I’ve met him face to face and can tell you, for a fact, that he is an unnervingly handsome man. Of course Hollywood realized it years ago, sticking him in thankless lunkhead roles wherein his only direction seemed to be “keep being handsome.”

On the surface, this trend seems to continue with “Magic Mike.” Tatum plays Mike, a 30-year-old male stripper living a hard-partying vampire’s life in Tampa, Florida. Mike is the star attraction at Xquisite, an all-male revue club owned by half-crazy semi-retired stripper Dallas (Matthew McCoughnahay), where he spends his nights earning g-strings full of singles by grinding on housewives and brides-to-be. On occasion, though, Mike strives to have a day job, and while working construction he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old college dropout who quits the gig after the foreman catches him trying to make off with an extra Pepsi. Mike takes him under his wing, and a night that begins with Adam suffering through dinner with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn) and her d-bag boyfriend ends with him awkwardly stripping for co-eds at the club under the newly-minted stage name “The Kid.”

Once again, Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) makes directing look breezy and effortless, letting conversational scenes unfold at a distance in one improvisational take while cheeseball dance routines are shot and choreographed to highlight every ab, pec, and glute writhing on the smoke-filled stage. The film evokes “Boogie Nights” without the pathos, reveling in a theatrical form of sexual entertainment (dig those Vegas-worthy props and costume changes) someone like your mom might happily partake in while portraying the performers as a close-knit, make-shift family. Led by an hilariously self-parodying McCoughnahay (who plays the bongos nearly-naked and constantly drawls “alright, alright, alright!”), the men known as the “cock-rocking kings of Tampa” end up being less tragic than expected…at least at first. A late-movie shift toward the dark underbelly of drug use feels inevitable yet wrong somehow, especially after the raunchy fun and camaraderie on display in the first two acts.

Perhaps that’s how it really happens, though, as Reid Carolin’s screenplay is based on Channing Tatum’s real-life experience as a male stripper. Building off his winning performance in “21 Jump Street,” Tatum owns “Magic Mike” from beginning to end. His stellar moves drive the excitement of the dance sequences, and his natural charisma opposite Pettyfer and an always-scowling Horn powers the plot past its few narrative leaps of faith. This beefcake has real chops.

As a man, its tempting to dismiss “Magic Mike” as nothing but a male stripper movie–and the screening I saw being filled with dressed-up women whooping it up certainly reinforced that this is the public sentiment toward the film–but that’s not fair to one of the most interesting Hollywood turnaround stories in Channing Tatum and one of the most prolific, creative directors working today in Soderbergh.

You aren’t going to want to stuff a dollar in its g-string, but throwing it ten dollars at the box office wouldn’t be a mistake.

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