Channing Tatum Unwrapped

06/28/2012 4:00 AM |

“Magic” Mike (Channing Tatum), the title character of Steven Soderbergh’s 26th feature film, entertains bachelorettes on weekend nights at a Tampa club called Xquisite, eliciting hoots and hollers during acrobatic hip-hop routines that necessarily devolve into fluid pelvic thrusting. He is experienced and skilled at riling the audience up by stripping down, and the man who plays him perfectly conveys the dazed good-time professionalism he brings to bear on the job: Tatum, whose own teenage exotic-dancing experiences served as the project’s springboard, has long looked less ready for the spotlight than as if he were always already steeling himself against its brightness.

Mike is a stripper—and Magic Mike should not disappoint the oglers—but he is just as crucially an industrious but undercompensated freelancer. It is perhaps, then, no surprise that the professional reviewers are taking a particular shine to this lowbrow-high-concept and campily humane film (a character named “Big Dick” Richie is introduced backstage at a sewing machine), a sublime piece of Independence Day counterprogramming. Flush with cash and short on security—and dismissed by both flustered bank-branch loan officers and fellow early-thirtysomethings with a more stable economic foothold (like Olivia Munn’s psychologist, who bristles at his postcoital getting-to-know-you questions)—the “entrepreneur” Mike also hustles as roofer and auto detailer, with a decidedly unprofitable passion sideline in custom-made furniture. (The director’s own on-the-job frustrations might not stem primarily from cash-flow imperatives, but during the scenes in which Mike effuses about working with his hands, it’s hard not to picture Soderbergh priming a canvas.)

While laying shingles, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a kindred beefcake college dropout who’s sleeping on his sister’s couch (medical assistant Brooke, played by newcomer Cody Horn, portraying hard-to-please with unlikely charm). Mike eventually brings Adam into the Xquisite fold, where he’s warmly received by flamboyant owner/emcee Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, in a truly amazing bit of indulgence-as-performance, toting bongos and drinking from a silver chalice). The movie then downshifts into an in-too-deep-ish arc involving ziplock pouches of E and an impending relocation of the club and its dancers to Miami, loosely resembling the trajectory of Boogie Nights but absent that film’s temporal sprawl. Magic Mike—shot, by “Peter Andrews,” through a yellowish gauze reflective of a lower-grade atmospheric chintz than the syrup-doused frames of The Informant, and suggesting a hothouse humidity that’s not actually suffocating) —takes place over a single June/July/August stretch, with abrupt intertitles announcing each turn of the calendar.

The script, by Reid Carolin, percolates with could-have-been romantic possibility between the strongly principled Brooke and “basically a good person” Mike, who has, over the last several years, primarily squandered his magnetism in front of an audience with a very limited use for it, forgoing more lasting associations. The either-or dilemma that Mike ultimately finds himself in will surprise no one who has previously seen a romantic drama (or read a plot synopsis for one), but it’s hard to begrudge this film, which both indulges and tweaks convention with such geniality, its predictable home stretch. Suffice it to say, we’ll be lucky if a major studio gives us another proudly gaudy summer crowd-pleaser that also feels so grounded in something resembling real life: a routine unfolding over work-life hills and valleys.

Opens June 29