“He didn’t like breakfast food?”
One doesn’t necessarily see a guy wanting for anything when looking at the life of Channing Tatum. Getting his start in Hollywood less than a decade ago with a mix of tough guy roles and dance, he’s quickly become a leading man, producer, and collaborator to some of cinema’s most revered luminaries. So, his serious desire to delve into the life of a male stripper—a label he wore for eight months of his nineteenth year—only elicited chuckles from me. I couldn’t help but think ideas of a salacious, sexual romp of chiseled men grinding on a generation of young women. But where I saw a lowest common denominator moneymaker, Steven Soderbergh imagined a world we had yet to experience onscreen. Using Tatum’s expertise to guide the way, he readied to tackle the subject by exposing its penchant for excess.
In this respect Magic Mike is a resounding success. The rowdy women at my screening proved the dancing actors had what it took to get them hot and bothered while scenes of drug use, sex, and greed showed the corruptive power this life holds. Mike (Tatum), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Ken ‘Doll’ (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) own the stage during multiple montages and extended displays of gyrating bodies as music pumps, women scream, and ringleader Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) soaks the energy up to smoothly extract copious amounts of cash from his audiences’ loose purses. At times shot in close-up so their ‘assets’ can thrust towards the screen, Soderbergh also isn’t afraid to set his camera front and center and place us in the birthday girl’s chair to become the object of our entertainment’s piercing eyes.
But the film wants us to believe it’s just a show. These men aren’t simply performers using their bodies until they no longer can—they have plans for the future. With little glamour to the reality that their dressing room is a kitchen inside a rented performance space, Club Xquisite exists only through a canvas banner hung outside on weekends. Artifice rules as not-so-fictional personas replace true identities with the fantasies paying customers desire. At least that’s what Mike believes as he collects paychecks from part-time jobs and small stakes ownerships. He holds onto the hope of one day cashing out and starting a reuse furniture company while the debauchery and self-loathing serves as a means to an end. With a move from Tampa to Miami and a chance at the big time looming, the new blood he enlists finally wakes him up to just how volatile it’s all become.
Written by Tatum’s friend and producing partner Reid Carolin, Magic Mike attempts to infuse a bad luck plotline that may or may not lead to a second chance at happiness. As one man looks to put the life behind him, another descends into the chaos. Recently removed from a failed attempt at college, nineteen-year old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) meets Tatum’s Mike on a construction job and soon becomes indebted to him after getting passed into a swanky club wearing a red hoodie and tennis shoes. Initially innocuous backstage help, payback becomes a bit more hands-on when a dancer passes out drunk. Pushed onstage to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, Adam pops his cherry and shows Dallas a spark of sexuality to earn a place on the bill. Unfortunately for him, ‘The Kid’ doesn’t possess the steady head of his mentor to take it all in stride.
Tempering its circus of bright lights, the film’s down-to-earth tale follows Mike trying to out-run the image he’s cultivated on stage. Friends smile and nod when he describes a legitimate future in business, but we see none believe it possible. The bank refuses his loan application, he falls for a girl obviously taking his calls for sex (Olivia Munn), and the one person with faith in the man beneath the image—Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn)—slowly realizes he’s just another guy lost with little chance of escape. The character is a tall order for Tatum to fill, but I’ve never seen him more natural. Always a riot in comedic roles where he can riff and be himself, drama has never been his strong suit. And while the wheels are still turning, his intrinsic charisma helps him push through the rough patches.
Always smiling until reality begins to smack him in the face, Tatum shines when loose and at play with his willing female partners and a perfectly over-the-top McConaughey. Definitely possessing a long history together, they work through their struggles with friendship, money, and power straining each exchange. McConaughey expertly toes the businessman line by providing a fun atmosphere when warranted—you girls can get excited as a return to the floor is in sight despite his feigning a lack of desire to do so—and a viciously cutthroat mentality when threatened. Mike is the only dancer who cares enough to move up the food chain while the rest happily take their clothes off and share their wives. It’s a trait that both makes and breaks him as he watches Adam slowly steal some spotlight.
And while he’s making the worst decisions of all, Adam’s refusal to acknowledge the consequences of his actions allows Pettyfer to give the deepest performance. Wanting nothing more than to party harder at every turn, he struggles to reconcile newfound notoriety with a continuing desire to make Mike proud. On the surface they are the same person, so only the discovery of their true worth eventually puts them onto their final paths. Sadly, rather than delve into this evolving relationship as more than a bridge to get us to the next weekend’s gig, we stop caring about what happens to them. By the time a moment for epiphany arrives, Soderbergh’s hands are tied from giving decisions time to breathe. He instead pushes though the climax in a way that destroys all emotional significance, abruptly cutting to black without the gravitas necessary to satisfy his goal.
 (L-r) MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY as Dallas and CHANNING TATUM as Mike in Warner Bros. Pictures’ dramatic comedy “MAGIC MIKE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Claudette Barius
 (L-r) CHANNING TATUM as Mike and CODY HORN as Brooke in Warner Bros. Pictures’ dramatic comedy “MAGIC MIKE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Glen Wilson
 (L-r) ALEX PETTYFER as Adam/The Kid and CHANNING TATUM as Mike in Warner Bros. Pictures’ dramatic comedy “MAGIC MIKE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Claudette Barius