Grade: A-/B+ (RENT IT)
CHANNING TATUM’S NIPPLES appear on screen a split-second before the rest of his body as he slides from a crumpled bed in which not one but two ladies lay felled from the night before. These are the first indications that Steven Soderbergh’s new film “Magic Mike” is immersed in the body electric. How could it not? The narrative centers around an ambitious male stripper in Tampa, Florida who takes a college dropout named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and onto the catwalk. (Tatum was born to play this role, literally: penned by his production partner Reid Carolin, the dramedy is inspired by the actor’s own experience as a stripper in the Sunshine State. Since that time, Tatum has been busy making tepid movies like “The Eagle” and “The Vow,” but here, he holds his own with newfound, leading-man likability.)
The real revelation of “Magic Mike” isn’t Tatum, however, nor is it Pettyfer, or even a repitilian Matthew McConaughey as club-owner Dallas, but newcomer Cody Horn as Adam’s sister, Brooke, who provides her brother with a sofa to sleep on while he learns the ropes at Club Xquisite. “I don’t judge him, I love him,” she tells Mike. Horn brings some much-needed sarcasm and gravitas to “Magic Mike,” which is skin-deep in terms of character and plotting. Anyone familiar with the best (and worst) of hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold tales like “Showgirls” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (not to mention “Klute,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Detachment”) will know that Adam will have to get knocked down before he gets up again. There is a sweetness to Pettyfer’s naivete, especially when, wide-eyed, he remarks to Mike after a wild night out: “I think we should be best friends.”
The banal title notwithstanding, “Magic Mike” is elevated by Soderbergh’s Midas touch; in keeping with “Contagion,” the film is lit in tawny, almost sepia, colors except for when the dancers at Xquisite are gyrating in tear-away chaps and thongs. Still, from the director of “Sex Lies and Videotape,” “Magic Mike” is surprisingly chaste; it could be the first unsexy movie about male dancers and the libidinal ladies they drive wild. Amongst those admirers is adult movie star Sasha Grey (no link provided!). If only “Magic Mike” had gone the full monty and thought of Dirk Diggler as its sleazy muse.
Regardless, audiences don’t seem to mind much. Otherwise known as “the stripper movie,” “Magic Mike” raked in 39.2 million dollars during its opening weekend, a record for an R-rated film, and it cost just seven million to make. That’s an awful lot of singles.