Mike (Channing Tatum) is a thirty-year-old entrepreneur, furniture designer and contractor who, at night, transformers into his stripping persona Magic Mike. When he sees potential in fellow construction worker Adam (Alex Pettyfer) he takes him under his wing and introduces him to a life he never thought possible – one fuelled by eroticised dance numbers, non-stop partying and female adoration. However, Mike’s had enough, but his attempts to move away from his alter ego and start a relationship with Adam’s older sister Brooke (Cody Horn) are tested by Adam’s irresponsibility and the stripper club owner’s (Matthew McConaughey) desire to take the much-loved revue to Miami and beyond.
Masquerading as a salacious floor show that sees members of stripping club Exquisite performing raunchy numbers in quick succession (no bad thing), Magic Mike has more depth and tenor than expected. Partly based on Tatum’s own experiences as a male performer, Reid Carolin’s screenplay contrasts Mike’s difficulty in creating a more worthwhile life for himself in an ever-weakening economy with Adam’s reckless abandon.
They are two men brought together by something that, while unashamedly fun and full of escapism, is no less a means to an end, at least in Mike’s eyes – a man with far more worldly knowledge than Adam. It’s not easy for either of them, however. As Mike struggles to secure a bank loan for his proposed furniture design business and find true companionship, Adam’s problems erupt from his eagerness to explore his new life, and the effects that has on his own wellbeing and that of Brooke, his overly protective sister.
Carolin’s attention-to-detail and the realism he attributes not only to the exposition of Mike and Adam, but also to the other characters that frequent the narrative, succeed in raising the thin material from its shallow shell into something that’s more rounded, realistic and emotionally involving. It suffers somewhat from a clunky middle-section, and some of the characters are less rounded than others, but they’re all inhabited with determination from the keen cast, which does well to hide the cracks.
Steven Soderbergh’s direction compliments the screenplay as he expertly alternates between the often opposing lives of Mike and Adam, achieved through the contrast between the clean-cut, open-ended exteriors and the closed-in, trapped and dangerous interiors – something that’s often obscured by the sheer possibilities represented through Exquisite’s stage, a place where they both feel somewhat safe and confident in their abilities.
As touched on above, it’s also a film populated by fierce performances. Tatum, in particular, delivers a career best performance, attributing heart, humanity and vulnerability to Mike as he sometimes struggles to differentiate between his true self and his overly confident on-stage personality. Pettyfer, meanwhile, is commendable as the arrogant, easily influenced Adam, while McConaughey is a perfect fit for Exquisite’s morally dubious owner Dallas.
The other performances are more fun than serious, but no less noteworthy. Olivia Munn steals almost every scene she’s in as Tatum’s go-to confidante-come-fuck buddy Joanna, and Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer do their best in their otherwise limited roles as Exquisite’s other strippers. Horn is the only weak ingredient here, but that’s more than likely due to her lack-of-experience and limited screen time than it is to her capability as an actress.
From its lighthearted, playful start to its considerably darker, yet renouncing conclusion, Magic Mike is not only a flirtatious romp, but also a worthy insight into the ups and downs of a career that offers as many positives as it does negatives and a well-acted and executed character study. The fact that it never feels too gratuitous for its own good, despite the number of bare bums and ripped torsos on display, aids in its ability to connect on a more emotionally resonant level. Job well done, Soderbergh.