Odds were that Steven Soderbergh's career of genre hopscotching would eventually land on a male stripper movie. Taking bits from Midnight Cowboy, Boogie Nights and, strangely, Coyote Ugly, the film is a study of a character we've seen before: the professional beefcake flush with money and women…but what he really wants is love (and his own furniture business). But after the emotionally cold formal exercises of his last few films—including this year's Haywire, a stylish action flick oddly dead behind its eyes—it's nice to find Soderbergh focusing on character at all. If nothing else, Magic Mike is his first project since The Informant! that has some blood flowing through its veins.
What's unexpected is Channing Tatum's performance. As Mike, a sex object whose true passion is building actual objects, Tatum—heretofore a set of abs masquerading as an actor—slips into the part with a natural ease. It could be fool's gold: The screenplay, by Reid Carolin, is loosely based on Tatum's days as a barely-legal exotic dancer in Florida. But the vulnerability he conveys, eking out in flashes from under a veneer of sarcastic charm, is impressive regardless. It helps that he has an easy rapport with his gang of fellow studs, referred to collectively as "the Cock-Rockin' Kings of Tampa." Speaking of, Matthew McConaughey just about steals the whole thing as Dallas, the group's leathery himbo of a leader. Like Tatum, he's basically playing himself—the closest he gets to wearing a shirt in the entire movie is a workout crop top, and a good chunk of his dialogue is "All right, all right, all right"—and McConaughey goes at the self-parody with crotch-clutchin gusto.
Soderbergh bolsters the performances with his signature visual style, bathing the douche-haven of Tampa in his trademarked golden sepia tone. But the movie meanders too long before finding a dramatic sticking point, and you get the sense that the whole reason it even exists is so the director could cross "film choreographed dance sequences" off his career bucket list. At first, the routines are glorious in their cheesiness—try not to grin at the sight of five guys in raincoats air-humping to a dubstep remix of "It's Raining Men"—but there's only so much undulating man meat one can take before it all fades into a blur of pecs, cheeks and bulging thongs. Ladies, I suspect, will disagree. R.
SEE IT: Magic Mike opens Friday at Lloyd Center, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Cornelius, Living Room Theaters, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, City Center, Division, Evergreen Parkway, Sherwood, Tigard, Wilsonville.