A little to the left on the campy scale, and Magic Mike would be Showgirls with boys.
This Steven Soderbergh film, inspired by Channing Tatum's real-life stint as a male stripper, applies the cheese that liberally.
But Soderbergh brings a surprisingly light touch to a movie that boasts heart and affection for its characters.
Indeed, there is not a single unredeemable or dislikable character in this movie, set in the seediest of milieus. From the title character himself, a wannabe furniture designer (Tatum), to the teenage newbie known only as The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) to the emcee, a deranged, shirtless, P.T. Barnum named Dallas (Matthew McConaughey operating at 1,000 volts), to various strippers with names like Tarzan (wrestler Kevin Nash) and Big Dick Richie (True Blood's Joe Manganiello), this is a gang of hardbodies who know how to play for laughs.
A moralistic last act, with drug ODs and mob debts seems almost tacked on, so sharply does it depart from the party atmosphere Magic Mike creates for the first two thirds of the movie.
On that level, Magic Mike could, for any passel of women pals, work exactly the same as a trip to a real male strip club. The combination of clownishness, simulated sex, six-pack abs and male objectification elicited plenty of excited screams at the screening I attended. And though I know it's a tall order to drag straight guys into a movie about male strippers, I'm here to say, guys, put away your insecurities. Take a significant other and go with it. It could turn out to be the "date movie" you've always looked for.
When we meet Mike, he's working as a construction labourer by day. There he meets The Kid (a surrogate for the real-life Tatum), who's living on his sister's couch, hand-to-mouth. The previously-promiscuous Mike has eyes for the sister, Paige (Cody Horn), which inspires him to apply for the job of The Kid's protector.
And, it turns out, The Kid needs protecting. A natural onstage, he also turns out to be a natural partier, soon losing his grip in a stripper's world of booze, drugs and shady deals. It's an antiseptic depiction of all that, to be sure. But the teasing relationship between Mike and the straitlaced-to-the-point-of-uptight Paige is a sweetener that keeps the last act from becoming a total downer. I don't know what it is in American movie DNA that says no good time can go unpunished, but even Soderbergh falls prey to it.
Magic Mike would also be far less effective without McConaughey (in pretty amazing shape for a guy in his 40s), whose onstage spiel is practically lascivious beat poetry. Whatever everybody else brings to this party, he raises the bar for everyone.
These may be male strippers unlike any you see in the real world, performing at a venue that similarly doesn't exist on this planet. But that's the very definition of escapism.
Three and a half stars (out of five)
This film is rated 14A