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updated: 6/28/2012 12:48 PM

Smart, sensitive 'Magic Mike' more than just eye candy

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  • Professional stripper Mike (Channing Tatum), center, does his stuff for the Xquisite Club in Tampa in Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike," based on Tatum's experience in clubs.

      Professional stripper Mike (Channing Tatum), center, does his stuff for the Xquisite Club in Tampa in Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike," based on Tatum's experience in clubs.

  • Matthew McConaughey pokes fun at his macho self in a supporting role in "Magic Mike."

      Matthew McConaughey pokes fun at his macho self in a supporting role in "Magic Mike."

  • Video: "Magic Mike" trailer

 
 

The only thing more ripped than their clothes are their chests.

The strippers at the Xquisite All-Male Review in Tampa know what their shocked and screaming female customers want: Them! Not their clothes.

Accordingly, Steven Soderbergh's surprisingly humorous, sensitive and sexy stripper drama "Magic Mike" pulls out all of the stops, at least up to the ones that would qualify for an NC-17 rating.

The strip scenes sizzle with kinky choreography, fancy (and really tiny) costumes and a soundtrack loaded with pulse-pounding songs selected to create the perfect ambience for crazed ladies out for a night of safe and restrained debauchery.

So who are these guys in the undulating rip-away trousers?

"You are the husbands they never had," their boss Dallas reminds them. "You are the dream guys who never came along!"

Matthew McConaughey plays Dallas with a layer of good old-fashioned sleeze, and the actor taps his innate trailer-trash appeal to maximum effect in "Magic Mike."

McConaughey pokes fun at his macho self with a supporting role in this drama and it's a doozy, dripping in Dyonesian testosterone, profitably pungent perspiration and heady hedonism.

As the Xquisite's chief, McConaughey serves as a cheerleader, teacher and disciplinarian to his corps of hunky strippers, among them his prized star, Magic Mike, played by Channing Tatum.

Tatum plays the protagonist in this movie, which only makes sense because it's based on his life as a teen stripper in Tampa before he broke into movies.

The obvious comparisons to Soderbergh's guilty pleasure will undoubtedly be the bold "Boogie Nights" or the sinful "Showgirls" because of its eye-popping hot bods and sexual subject matter.

But "Magic Mike" comes much closer to an old Tom Cruise drama titled "Cocktail," about an exotic bar where an established pro takes a young man under his alcohol-soaked wing and teaches him some smooth showmanship moves while an unlikely romance begins to shake out.

"Magic Mike" introduces us to Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a lost and destitute young man who lies about his experience as a roofer to get a job. On a rooftop he meets Mike (Tatum), who we discover has big dreams, plus fingers in many pies: the roofing business, custom-made furniture, auto-detailing and stripping.

Mike brings Adam to the club one night to see if he will fit in with the guys. When one of Dallas' regulars bombs out, Adam reluctantly takes the stage, artlessly tosses off his clothes and the women shriek like harpies dining on fresh meat. Yep, he's a natural.

Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn), a solid, unaffected young woman, works at a medical center. She worries about her troubled kid brother and doesn't particularly like that he's fallen in with a bunch of male strippers.

Mike clearly becomes attracted to her; but that's a one-way street. He's a dropout nearing 30 with no career.

The muscular Tatum at first glance resembles an oak tree trunk, but he proves himself to be a nimble, graceful and powerful athlete on the floor, with or without clothing.

(Chaz Ebert, sitting with me during a Tuesday night screening, told me, "Channing Tatum is hot!" so it's official. He's hot!)

The strip segments abound with sexy fun, but "Magic Mike," written with compassion and insight by Reid Carolin, pivots on a story about a confused man who begins to sense time ticking away and realizes he will wind up with nothing if he can't make something happen with his life very soon.

This amazingly smart drama tells us that people don't really change much, even after a life-altering experience should have knocked sense into them.

Carolin also provides for unexpected acts of kindness and sacrifice you don't expect in a story about strippers. This movie offers more than skin. It has a beating heart.

Soderbergh never lets the sensational elements of "Magic Mike" overpower the characters, given depth, purpose and personality by a dynamic, well-chosen cast.

Tatum is a dramatic revelation here, demonstrating touching vulnerability and radiating realism, especially in his halting, jumbled, nervous defense of his actions before a judgmental Brooke.

Yet, McConaughey's Dallas from the wrong side of the tracks delivers the performance to be remembered. He's a cocky, confident caretaker of women's fantasies swaddled in a leather vest and low-riding, leather trousers.

And he sings. Yes, Matthew McConaughey sings a ditty called "Ladies of Tampa."

And they scream while wanting to tear his clothes off.

Except that most of them already are.

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