Hampered by its cliched story but buoyed by Steven Soderbergh’s breezy direction, the male-stripper dramedy “Magic Mike” squeaks by as a bawdy pleaser. With its blast of beefcake and a sprinkle of economic themes, the film should satisfy those who like their summer movies serio-tinged and want their supermen to originate outside of comic books.
While Soderbergh, whose credits include “Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and, recently, “Haywire,” has swung every which way in terms of topic and scope, his films have long possessed a winningly naturalistic energy. Interactions feel spontaneous within even the most contrived story lines.
In this case, that groove involves the world of male striptease dancers in a Tampa, Fla., nightspot.
Combining lightweight training-day dynamics with sex-industry specifics recalling fare such as “Boogie Nights,” the film stars Channing Tatum as Mike, a 30-year-old aspiring furniture designer and self-described entrepreneur who performs roofing jobs by day and shines as a strip-club dancer by night.
His moves pack the house with cheering, drink-buying women. This pleases club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey).
A primary story thread involves Mike a mentor of a directionless 19-year-old named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) in the ways of stripping and the occupation’s fringe benefits, which include partying and freewheeling sex.
The other central relationship is Mike’s romance with Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). Brooke disapproves of the stripper life and its effect on her reckless brother. Her feelings prompt Mike to consider giving up stripping.
It’s a hackneyed story, and weak character development doesn’t help.
Adam fails to convince us that he’s worthy of Mike’s, or the viewer’s, serious concern. The Brooke-Mike romance seems devised merely to give Mike a more mainstream-friendly love interest than the kinkier Joanna (Olivia Munn).
Credibility problems also exist in the failure to address darker aspects of the men’s work. Can the strippers truly have no gripes about how the industry and the controlling Dallas treat them?
But Soderbergh still delivers bright, believable, immersing entertainment.
Occupation-specific moments such as a glimpse of Mike ironing dollar bills that women have stuffed in his underwear are a hoot. The same goes for the deliberately cheesy dance numbers, in which the men, sporting soldier and other garb, bare (almost) everything.
More satisfying still are the economic issues figuring into the dynamics. Everyone seems to have a dream or scheme involving money.
“Equity” may be more common than “thong” in the daily lexicon.
As for Tatum, whose real-life experiences as a teen dancer inspired Reid Carol’s screenplay, he’s no master thespian, but he’s striving, and that quality befits his character. And on the dance floor, he’s electric.
McConaughey dominates the day as the preening, over-the-top Dallas, though you wish he’d more deeply explored his character’s unsavory elements.
Magic Mike ***
Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn
Written by Reid Carolin
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Running time 1 hour