Channing Tatum held a number of odd jobs before he became a matinee idol, including a brief stint as a male stripper which he might not exactly be proudest of. But rather than deny that embarrassing detour on the road to superstardom, the hunky heartthrob has opted to embrace that chapter of his checkered past by making a semi-autobiographical movie recounting his daring foray into the adult entertainment industry.
The upshot of that effort is "Magic Mike," a raw and revealing character-driven drama directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh (for "Traffic") who previously collaborated with Channing on the action-thriller "Haywire." The two also just finished shooting "A Bitter Pill," a crime caper set for an early 2013 release.
Here, Channing stars as Mike Martingano, an erotic dancer who goes by the stage name Magic Mike when titillating the ladies at a seedy, Tampa dive called Xquisite. The place is managed by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a silky smooth operator who has promised his most popular performer 10 percent equity to follow him when he relocates the club to Miami.
Trouble is Mike isn't getting any younger, and his big plans for himself definitely don't include stripping into his 40s like Dallas and the other members of the aging revue: Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Ken (Matt Bomer) and Big [bleep] Richie (Joe Manganiello). Instead, he dreams of saving up enough seed money to set himself up as a custom furniture designer, and maybe settling down with Brooke (Cody Horn), the sister of the 19 year-old (Alex Pettyfer) he's just recruited for Dallas.
Unfolding over the course of a long, hot Florida summer, "Magic Mike" is such an unpredictable and palpably raw-edged adventure that you soon forget that you're even watching actors performing on sets. In that regard, the picture is rather reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's similarly super-realistic "Jackie Brown" (1997), a masterpiece which also featured a flawed protagonist ensnared in a sticky predicament at an unpretentious oceanfront setting.
Will Mike summon up the requisite resolve to extricate himself from the stripping game and thereby save his soul? Or will a financial setback cause him to rationalize moving to Miami, leaving his hopes and girlfriend behind for the sake of easy money?
A compelling character study not to be missed, if only to witness the gutsy, career performance delivered by the ever-improving Channing Tatum.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, drug use, brief graphic nudity and pervasive sexuality.
Running time: 110 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers