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The Endearing, Imperfect Magic of Mike

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“Magic Mike” is all goose-bump and grind. When the “cock-rocking kings” — Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, out actor Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello — take the stage to take off their clothes to “It’s Raining Men,” viewers excited by all the buffness on parade might just scream like the female customers in the film. Steven Soderbergh’s enjoyable comedy-drama serves up sexy bare-ass actors along with a memorable shot of a penis pump that earns the film its R rating.

The thong-thin plot has Tatum –– whose real-life story inspired the film — playing the title character, a Tampa roofer who strips for the cash he needs to open a handcrafted furniture business. When Mike befriends the broke 19-year-old Adam (Pettyfer) on a roofing job, he brings him along to Xquisite, a male strip club. In a plot twist borrowed from the old showbiz warhorse “42nd Street,” Adam gets a chance to strut his stuff when a dancer can’t take the stage. He takes off his clothes, enough to make him a star but not to hide the fact that he’s a lost young man. Adam asks Mike to be his best friend, and Mike agrees, assuring the younger man’s no-nonsense sister Brooke (Cody Horn) that he’ll take care of her kid brother.

Mike’s story, of course, is the film’s central focus. He turns to stripping only after experiencing the frustration of being denied a business loan from a female bank officer — a woman who would be throwing money at him if she were in the audience at Xquisite. Mike also has relationship troubles. Having no-strings-attached sex with Joanna (Olivia Munn), a bisexual student, he’s troubled he can’t enjoy emotional intimacy with her. He also pines for Brooke, who mostly disapproves of him.

But it is Brooke’s banter with Mike that forms the emotional backbone of the film. Brooke’s wit also makes for a pricelessly funny line when Joanna presses her for sex.

The rest of the film, unfortunately, lacks the momentum promised by Mike’s moments with Brooke. Employing a traditional three-act structure. “Magic Mike,” stripped down to its barest elements, consists of exposition (in this case, exhibition), rising action (sex, drugs, and financial strains that derail Mike’s career plans), and climax (when our hero develops a true sense of who he is). The story is hardly novel, but its unique setting and genuine good humor lend it considerable charm.

“Magic Mike” offers several hilarious moments, as when Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), Xquisite’s owner, teaches Adam how to dance like a pro. “Fuck that mirror like you mean it!,” he instructs the novice hunk. Big Dick Richie (Manganiello) also provides hearty laughs as he gives a fireman’s carry to a plus-size patron –– and nearly wrecks his back.

For all its titillation, “Magic Mike” works best when it gets serious. When Adam tells Mike how grateful he is that he got into stripping —that he enjoys the money, drugs, and women that come with his new “career” –– he is disarmingly sincere. We learn more about him here than in any scene of him naked.

Doing ecstasy, Adam is encouraged to grope the breasts of fellow stripper Ken’s (Bomer) wife at a party, and the two men end up telling the other, “I love you.” Soderbergh teasingly cuts away before the scene plays out, but the bond between them is palpable and fascinating.

Fans hoping to see much of Bomer and Manganiello will be disappointed to learn that Ken and Big Dick Richie stay mostly in the background. The film is truly a showcase for beefy Tatum, who dazzles viewers, whether on the dance floor, showing up naked somewhere else, or dressed up as Marilyn Monroe. Tatum exudes charisma –– endearing as he tries to impress Brooke and sympathetic as his fortunes reverse.

McConaughey is suitably slick and sleazy as Dallas, generating the most laughs with his over-the-top performances on stage. Pettyfer, in the ingénue role, is appropriately stiff. The actor makes Adam likable but never truly desirable — which is exactly why his performance works.

Soderbergh’s film seduces and then pulls back, but in the end gets its viewers’ money by taking off its clothes. Anyone in the mood to drink in the guilty pleasures of “Magic Mike” won’t mind that one bit.

MAGIC MIKE | Directed by Steven Soderbergh | Warner Brothers | Opens Jun. 29 citywide

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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