Steven Soderbergh makes the movies he wants to make, and apparently this time around he really wanted to make a movie that prominently features Matthew McConaughey’s glistening abs.
McConaughey plays the shiny, ridiculous frontman of Tampa strip club Xquisite, where he leans hard into his Southern drawl and goes by “Dallas.” Under his charismatic stewardship, the club transforms nightly into a giddy, giggly bacchanal; male dancers feed on the crowd’s energy, turning the performance into a low-stakes power play. Audience members are hoisted to the stage to pantomime the most athletic sex they’ve ever had; in one routine, the dancer’s crotches become machine guns, firing a spray (of imaginary bullets!) into the crowd. Objectifying men, it turns out, is way more fun than objectifying women—Magic Mike’s campy, enjoyable musical numbers are predicated on the fact that the dancers want to be there just as much as the audience does.
Headliner “Magic Mike” (Channing Tatum) is a hardworking hustler, possibly possessed of a heart of gold, whose dream is to save enough money to open a custom carpentry business. (He’s “good with his hands.”) Tatum’s alleged sexual magnetism doesn’t really resonate with me, but he’s perfectly likable, and his best scenes here are with low-key love interest Brooke (Cody Horn), the big sister of Mike’s young protégé, “the Kid” (the verrrry handsome Alex Pettyfer).
Despite its winky title, and the apparently near-universal appeal of Tatum hopping around shirtless while wearing a little hat, Magic Mike is more than just a straight-to-screen Chippendales revue. Soderbergh is interested in all aspects of his characters’ work, and the strip club behind-the-scenes parts are some of the film’s most entertaining: The dancers sew their own thongs, shave their legs, and swap theories about “Waffle House pussy” while drinking home-brewed Viagra. It’s almost a shame that Magic Mike has to have a plot at all, and the half-hour of story shoehorned in at the end is about what you’d expect from a movie about Florida strippers: Drugs, weird sex, a baby pig eating vomit off the floor of a fancy apartment. It’s a world full of easy money and easier women, a world that’s awesome when you’re 19 and less so at 30. The strippers pursue pleasure and suffer its consequences; some learn lessons and some don’t. Neither Soderbergh nor Magic Mike’s characters are interested in passing judgment one way or another.