There’s no doubt that Magic Mike’s cast is eye-candy alone. In Steven Soderbergh’s film “Magic Mike,” the ladies in the movie version of Tampa, Florida aren’t the only ones whose dreams come true. But the “magic” in this movie isn’t just the fact that so many attractive male stars are together and happen to be stripping clothes off their bodies. The real magic trick is embodied in Mike himself: a balancing act between the life of Magic Mike in the hidden, extravagant world of male stripping, and the life of regular Mike – a 30-year-old man seeking to be an entrepreneur. Eye-candy aside, Soderbergh and the entire cast successfully explore the hidden world of male stripping and the ugliness of the high life while testing the limits of balancing two separate lives in reality.
Inspired but not based off of Channing Tatum’s own past as a dancer at a club in Florida, Soderbergh gives viewers a straightforward look into the life of the stripper, Mike (played by Channing Tatum from “Step Up” and “21 Jump Street”). In the first few minutes of Magic Mike, viewers glimpse into the life of Mike’s party-filled lifestyle as he is shown walking away buck-naked with his back to the camera from a bed with two women.
But by day, Mike takes on the role of what some could call the embodiment of a youthful “American Dream”: that of an entrepreneur pursuing all of his passions as the founder of multiple companies. From founding a mobile detailing company, to roofing houses and creating a custom furniture business, Mike seems to be the typical star-on-the-rise type of guy–the type of guy who might just need a little bit of, well, “magic” to get him going.
But Mike’s idea of magic isn’t exactly what most people would think of. By night, Mike becomes “Magic Mike,” a star who feeds women their wildest romantic dreams (while getting bills stuffed into his clothes) at Tampa’s male dance venue Xquisite. Joined by the rest of his crew, made up of Joe Maganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (White Collar), Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) and Kevin Nash (WWF), Mike is part of the “Kings of Tampa” who work under Xquisite’s manager and golden-boy stripper, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey from “Dazed and Confused” and “The Lincoln Lawyer”). Mike’s night life brings him not only fame and cash from the ladies of Tampa, but a life where he doesn’t have to worry about the future and can just have a good time.
When Mike takes 19-year-old college dropout Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, Adam’s dull life living on the couch of his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), is quickly shifted to the stripper life of fast money, women, parties and most of all, the rejuvenating feeling of freedom.
After seeing a box of thongs, a sailor’s hat and Adam using her razor to shave his legs, Brooke finds out the truth about Adam’s “night job”. Brooke trusts Mike to take care of her directionless and rowdy brother in the stripping business. Yet, things get complicated by the slow attraction between Brooke and Mike, Brooke’s protectiveness over her little brother and the eccentric lifestyle Mike and Adam live day to day.
From routines that range from “Raining Men” to cowboys and cops, Tatum brings forth the irresistible dance moves from the days of “Step Up,” while Adam, who is only a kid, gets literally and figuratively drunk off of his new lifestyle.
But while Mike and Adam are enjoying the highs of their stripper lives, things take a sobering turn. Adam gets involved in an Ecstasy deal with the club’s DJ while Mike’s desire to have a serious relationship causes him to realize that he can’t both keep the dream world he’s created on the stage as Magic Mike and also achieve his aspirations in the real world.
This isn’t just a stripper story that happens to have attractive men on the screen for 110 minutes. Juxtaposing the real world and the flashy stripper fantasy world, Soderbergh shows viewers the constant flip-flop and stark contrast between the idealistic life Mike believes he leads as a stripper, and the reality that shines through and forces Mike to realize that the perfection he’s reached is just a delusion. During all of this, there are laughs over the small details (such as Mike ironing crumpled bills from the strip club on the edge of a table) while the characters change as they face struggles.
We see Mike at first as a suave guy who’s “living the life” – partying all night and getting attractive girls, fast cash and love from his fans. But as the story progresses, Mike’s constant flip-flopping between his two worlds leads him to the question of whether the fantasy world of stripping that he’s built for himself is helping him reach his dreams, or harming him while he lives in a dreamland of his own. Adam on the other hand, starts out as the awkward, naïve kid who turns to stripping under Mike’s care as a way to escape the boredom of his humdrum life. Adam, who (fittingly) makes his debut to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” is dubbed “the Virgin Kid,” but soon immerses himself with a lifestyle filled with easy money, drugs, women and partying.
“Magic Mike” has the best of both worlds; the quixotic world of male strippers showers the viewers with its luring rewards of fast money, fast women and a good time. Yet at the same time, floating high on that transient life blocks out the perception of the real world of real people outside the strip club. Yes, many people in the theater may be motivated to see the movie only for the eye candy. Yes, it is quite entertaining to see the Kings of Tampa perform their “Step Up”-like routines in the strip club. But what’s also real is the ugliness of the “good” life and the artful way in which the characters portrayed how people tend to get lost in their pursuit of happiness. What’s real is the fact that the struggle of Magic Mike is one that’s familiar to many – one where the kind, moral Dr. Jekyll and the scandalous Mr. Hyde are trapped between two worlds in one body – with a male-stripper background to give the balancing act a 2012-feel. And that combination – that’s real magic.
** NOTE: This film is rated R by the MPAA for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use. **