“This is not who I am,” says Channing Tatum as Magic Mike’s titular male stripper. “It’s what I do.” But in Steven Soderbergh’s buffed-and-waxed fairy tale, the line between the two is as thin as the G-string covering Matthew McConaughey’s asshole.
In a piss-yellow Tampa the color of Traffic’s Tijuana, Mike stockpiles cash any way he can, working construction, detailing cars and removing his clothes to the screams of hundreds of women a night. When he’s on stage, showing off the steps he honed as a Chippendale dancer, Tatum is breathtaking, not only for his physique but his physical grace; he’s selling his moves as well as his muscles. Mike is just salting away cash until he can secure a loan for his custom-furniture business, but the short-term promise of “women, money and a good time,” is more than enough for Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who quickly establishes himself as the Anne Baxter to Tatum’s Bette Davis. McConaughey’s Dallas, who owns the strip club and acts as its hairless, chiseled MC, sees in Adam a budding star he can have cheap; where Mike expects equity in Dallas’ pending Miami venture, Adam accepts a lesser percentage as a grateful gift.
For most of Magic Mike’s first hour, “women, money and a good time” is enough for the movie as well. The barely clothed dance numbers carry none of the ugly baggage that would weigh down a movie about female strippers, especially since Reid Carolin’s script studiously avoids any mention of steroids, speed or eating disorders. They’d only kill the buzz. Until the other shoe drops, Magic Mike is pure, giddy enjoyment, put together with the offhand skill of a slumming master. The latter stages are a letdown, not just because the high is followed by the inevitable hangover but because Soderbergh and Carolin assert the decline rather than build up to it. It seems to have less to do with 21st-century economics than an unspoken and unexamined assumption that taking your clothes off for a living will rot your soul.