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Movie Review: Magic Mike

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“Magic Mike,” the seventh film Steven Soderbergh has directed since he announced his retirement, brings a conventional story to a very unconventional world, making a surprisingly compelling movie out of star Channing Tatum’s youthful adventures as a male stripper.

Borrowing the structure of “Boogie Nights,” which itself borrowed the structure of “Goodfellas,” “Magic Mike” is another tale of a wide-eyed young man entering a sin-based industry, earning money and success and squandering it in a drug- and sex-fueled meltdown. The twist this time is that the protagonist isn’t the young man but rather his older mentor.

The film isn’t nearly as ambitious as “Boogie Nights,” and it ends sort of abruptly. But it’s ultimately a winning effort from Soderbergh.

Tatum, riding quite a hot streak these days, is the title character, the headlining stripper at the Tampa “male dance revue” known as Xquisite. A star stripper who’s been saving up for years to start a furniture-making business, Tatum frequently takes home a bevy of fetching young women, including casual hookup Joanna (Olivia Munn.)

The club is owned by retired stripper Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), and features a lineup that includes “True Blood”‘s Joe Mangienello, White Collar’s Matt Bomer, and pro wrestler Kevin Nash. New to the group is 19-year-old ne’er-do-well Adam (Alex Pettyfer), whose sister (Cody Horn) is frequently hit on by Tatum.

Now yes, those who are fans of beefcake have likely had this movie’s release date circled on their calendars and for months, and they won’t be disappointed. But even if you’re not, the stripping scenes are both expertly staged and absolutely hilarious, complete with humorous costumes and creatively choreographed routines. The same goes for the backstage stuff, and there’s a gag involving a penis pump that’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie this year.

The film’s weak leak, alas, is Adam, who is both underwritten and played by Pettyfer as a complete nonentity. We have no sense of the character at the beginning and not much more at the end, and Pettyfer doesn’t do a whole lot to sell his descent into drug hell.

On the other hand, this is the performance of Matthew McConaughey’s career. The actor, who has reinvented himself in his early 40s as a scene-stealing supporting actor, brings unbelievable energy and I didn’t stop laughing the whole time he was onscreen. Yes, he plays the bongos, and yes, he says “all right, all right, all right” about 25 times.

I’m rooting for an Oscar nomination, just for the hilarity of the ceremony showing the one clip that they absolutely should show.

I also couldn’t believe the hilarious turn by Kevin Nash, the 52-year-old who wrestled as Diesel. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed, during his WWF heyday circa 1995, that 17 years later Nash would be playing fourth-banana in a male stripper movie, much less that I’d praise his performance in it.

“Magic Mike” isn’t quite in my wheelhouse, but I admire the film for showing us a world that isn’t commonly shown on screen. And that McConaughey performance is one for the ages.

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