If all you know about “Magic Mike” is that it’s a movie about male strippers, you are in for a surprise. Firstly, the film is loosely based on star Channing Tatum’s life as an exotic dancer before he became a model and then an actor. Secondly, at heart it’s a story about a man who has to choose between living an easy life following the path his mentor has laid out for him, or growing up and striking out on his own.
Mike (Tatum) has it good: he’s the right-hand-man and headliner for Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who runs an all-male strip show in Tampa, Fla. He owns the stage when he’s on it, gets lots of easy tips and women, and although he has dreams of making it big in one of his side businesses, his life is pretty much laid out for him. Dallas is planning to move the show to Miami, and keeps dangling a share of the new club’s equity in front of Mike.
When Mike takes on Adam (Alex Pettyfer), an aimless young man who has very few skills but can connect with women easily, as a protŽgŽ, he slowly starts to realize that the path he’s on with Dallas may not be where he wants to go.
The pacing and focus of the film are a little uneven. It feels almost like a serious, thoughtful independent movie that’s been slathered with high production values, flashy dance sequences and lots of sweaty manflesh. It’s easy to mistake “Magic Mike” for a badly-written romance (Mike finds himself connecting with Adam’s worried older sister, played by Cody Horn), or a weirdly seriousover-the-top comedy, but really it’s neither. It’s a coming-of-age tale about a guy who comes to understand that his life isn’t as together as he thought. As Mike sees the choices Adam is making and where the young man is headed, it forces him to realize the implications of his own choices.
Tatum is surprisingly talented, both on and off the stage. His dancing skills aren’t news, but his acting skills are, at least to me. Mike’s a good guy, but he’s been lying to himself for years, and Tatum brings that to life with a simplicity that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. The rest of the cast are solid, with McConaughey oozing sleaze, the actors playing the other dancers sketching out characters with small asides, and a surprise: comedian Gabriel Iglesias as the club’s disc jockey/drug dealer. I knew Iglesias was a top-notch standup comic, but it turns out he can act too.
It’s easy to say that “Magic Mike” fails because its melding of flashy, high-budget steamy comedy with serious-thoughtful-drama doesn’t quite work for everybody. It does, however, succeed on two fronts: if you go in expecting to get lots of mostly-naked men gyrating, you will not be disappointed (even McConaughey gets in on the action); and if you go in with low expectations and keep your eyes peeled for the serious plot thread, you will be pleasantly surprised.
“Magic Mike” is far, far more complex and thoughtful a film than I expected going in, and likely to please both those who want to see a movie about male strippers and those who want that and a little more.