Any preconceived notions theatergoers might have about “Magic Mike” should be tossed out the window before they step foot in the cinema. With such an unlikely pairing of Director Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven”) and Channing Tatum (“21 Jump Street”), expectations were sure to be defied. Add male stripping into the mix and you’ve got a certifiably unpredictable film.

Magic Mike

At Quality 16 and Rave
Warner Bros.

The movie follows the titular character, played by Tatum, as he goes through life working in construction, furniture building, mobile detailing and, of course, stripping. Along the way, he helps out a handsome, yet lost youth named Adam (Alex Pettyfer, “I Am Number Four”) by hooking him up with a job at the Tampa strip joint where he works. Together they take on the world of stripping, sex and partying. While Adam is overjoyed with his newfound existence, Mike seems to want more out of his life, primarily a steady career in furniture making.

The storyline proves weak at first, mainly because at times it’s unclear whether Mike or Adam is the true protagonist. Yet once it has been established that Adam’s tribulations are merely a strong subplot, the narrative runs fairly smoothly, expertly interweaving Mike’s romantic storyline involving Adam’s sister (Cody Horn, “Twelve”) with his primary goal of operating a respectable and profitable business.

But Soderbergh’s directing is what really gives this film a pulse. Though male stripping seems an odd subject for him, he somehow manages to make scenes pleasurable and gritty at the same time. The camera focus on the gyrating bodies of Tatum, Pettyfer and other hunky males evokes a strange combination of sensuality and dry humor that just happens to work. In typical Soderbergh style, his directing gives the film more depth, challenging the ideas of capitalism and the American dream while persistently entertaining his audience.

Soderbergh elicits top-notch performances from his actors, as well. Tatum goes beyond his charming goofball routine and delves into a deeper, more emotionally complex character with Mike. Likewise, Matthew McConaughey (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) owns the role as a slimy strip club owner who pressures Mike into a life he no longer wants.

Though this film strongly appeals to women — thanks to the undeniably attractive male cast — the characters and directing will draw men in too. This is not a movie to be written off as a silly, unconvincing look into the world of male stripping. The genuine sense of reality that Soderbergh provides pushes this film past its superficial exterior into strikingly relatable territory.

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