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Magic Mike

Year: 2012
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Producer: Reid Carolin
Writer: Reid Carolin
Cast: Channing Tatum, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey

Aside from the usual skill I always love about Soderbergh (the fact that every one of his films has a completely different style and aesthetic), here's another one you might not have noticed – even when he's not doing a worthy dramatic project like Traffic or the Che films, it still feels like he is.

Even B-movies about secret agents and fighting (Haywire) and Vegas casino heists (Ocean's Eleven) have a mystique of high quality and gravity that's very hard for a lot of directors to replicate even at their best.

Underneath, a story about a stripper (of either gender) with a seemingly perfect life but who can't escape the essential limitations imposed by the job and realise bigger aspirations seems like movie of the week territory.

But Soderbergh and his writer Reid Carolin have performed a masterstroke of making the film about male strippers, avoiding all the sleazy sexism and lechery that usually accompanies movies about women strippers (as we all know from popular culture, women watching male strippers are politically correct as they're just having a good time and cutting loose, where men watch female strippers because they're all drooling, sex-starved beasts who should be sitting in the back of Soho cinemas wearing macs).

Soderbergh's mastery over the design and imagery of the mood does the rest. Magic Mike is as grown-up as it is simple. The only low note is Cody Horn, love interest to Mike (Tatum), whose performance is a shade overeager.

Mike is a performer in a male dance revue in Tampa, led by Dallas (McConaughey, in equal measure hilarious, homoerotic, and so dripping with unbridled sexuality he's like a disembodied penis walking around on a stage).

There's women, money and good times aplenty, but in the tradition of stripper/hooker/performer movies from time immemorial, Mike knows he's more than buff pecs and dance moves. He has dreams of a furniture design business, but keeps finding that he's launched himself on a different path in life than one that can lead him there. In the film's most astute scene, he almost charms the panties off a female loan officer at a bank with his huge shoulders and killer smile, but he gets nowhere despite presenting a wad of cash because he has no credit history.

The second story is the ascent of Adam (Pettyfer), or The Kid, as they call him, a guy Mike takes under his wing and inducts into his world of parties, g-strings and screaming girls every night. It's an almost classic passing-of-the-baton tale as Mike is the jaded sage who's seen how empty it can all be, Adam still in wide eyed wonder at feeling on top of the world.

As Adam spins out of control, running into trouble after fancying himself a drug dealer and owing some bad people a lot of money, Mike is feeling his enthusiasm for the life ebbing. Not only is he getting nowhere with his dreams, he learns that the lecherous Dallas isn't cutting him a fair deal as the revue expands its empire, and he's also falling for Adam's sister Brooke – a smart, no-nonsense woman who isn't screaming and throwing money at him but who represents a whole other life of equality and normality.

As I write this review, it's shaping up to be the year Tatum truly arrives, and so far there's been little he can do, including comedy (21 Jump Street), no small feat for the polished eye candy he looked like for so long. The script is based on his own experiences as a stripper and Soderbergh's unbeatable sense of style has found a great muse in him.

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