First thing's first: Magic Mike delivers on the eye candy. Club Xquisite, the wildest male strip club in Tampa, sports an ensemble of muscled men ready to flash their ridiculous moves in even more ridiculous dance numbers (this crew has never seen a pair of assless pants they didn't like). Bringing a few dollar bills to the movie is recommended Magic Mike is shot up close and personal enough that flailing them about will come naturally.
But between the codpieces, air humping, and penis pumps Magic Mike tells a surprisingly relatable, funny, and poignant parable, centered on a character all too familiar to anyone with an ounce of ambition. Mike (Channing Tatum) leads a triple life: By day, he's a roof tiler; by night, an exotic dancer; and in his dreams, he's a furniture craftsman and entrepreneur. When Mike first crosses paths with Adam (Alex Pettyfer), his worries about the future are dispelled, slipping right into mentor mode to show the 19-year-old the wonders of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Adam's broke and without direction the perfect state of being for a stripper-in-the-making. Mike's sales pitch is irresistible, and when Adam unwillingly takes the stage for the first time, he feels the rush of a dozen woman screaming, groping, and stuffing singles down his jock strap. There's no question: A stripper's life is a journey worth embarking on.
In his typical fashion, director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich) defies conventions, sticking with Mike's ups and downs rather than transforming Magic Mike into a Goodfellas-esque "newbie in over his head" story. Between playing protector to the mesmerized Adam and attempting to strike up an actual relationship with Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn), Mike finds himself, for the first time, looking inward. Does a job define a man? He's convinced it doesn't, but as Adam loses himself to the profession, becoming the Xquisite's cutthroat owner Dallas' (the wonderfully slimy Matthew McConaughey) right-hand man and parlaying the gig into more dangerous ventures, Mike realizes breakdancing in thongs may be more poisonous to his dreams than he ever realized.
Exploitation Magic Mike is not. The film's dance sequences are sexy and sleek, but only to clue the audience into the job's allure. Backstage is equally important; Soderbergh does an amazing job constructing the boy's club atmosphere that keeps Mike and Adam coming back. Lively characters like Ken (Matt Bomer) and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) say little, but speak volumes in the background of every scene. They're palling around, and when they finally do reach out to Adam to profess their friendship, it makes perfect sense. For a guy without a family, the dancers are a perfect replacement.
While the cast is stellar, Tatum continues his streak of star-making performances in the role of Mike. Obviously, the man can dance and he blows any memories of Step Up into oblivion. Beyond that, he's perfectly in tune with Soderbergh's naturalistic style, cool on his feet with the comedy and devastatingly subtle in the drama. His rapport with Horn, who is equally striking in her casual approach, is sweet and real, a constant reminder that even a guy who lap dances in a fireman costume for a living has feelings too. Soderbergh enhances each of his performers with spot on photography: His Tampa is gritty and yellow-tinged, the interior of the club a safe haven from the blase nature of reality. Magic Mike carries a full package.
Magic Mike hits all the right notes of comedy and drama that's completely unexpected in the summer blockbuster surroundings. Come for the stripping, stay for the high-caliber filmmaking. Magic Mike is one of the year's best.