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Once upon a time, Channing Tatum was a stripper. “Magic Mike,” written by Reid Carolin and directed by the mystical Steven Soderbergh, is Tatum’s chance to show us what it’s like to be a teenager thrown into an adult world.
Tatum doesn’t play the rookie though – that’s Adam, played by Alex Pettyfer (“Beastly,” “I Am Number Four”.) Tatum plays the old vet, the perfect flirt and the aspirational entrepreneur, aka Magic Mike. He meets Adam at his day job on a construction site and the rest is tumultuous history, as they both struggle with the demands and norms of their industry – exhausting work, late nights, constant drug use, even more constant sex and a whole lot of leg-shaving.
“Magic Mike” is a value menu combination of “Hamlet 2” (hot weather ennui meets showtime glam) and “Weekend” (hyper-realistic dialogue meets sexual confusion) and hell, even a little bit of “Coyote Ugly.” But there’s not a lot of “Pretty Woman” in there – if you’re looking for a glitzy movie with a happy ending, you can go elsewhere. Here’s what you will get from “Magic Mike,” broken down in alphabetical form. It’s abbreviated – sing the whole alphabet at mndaily.com/ae.
A is for ASS: There’s so much of it, all the time. We get our first glimpse of Tatum as he’s lumbering into the bathroom, post-threesome, in the buff. Minutes later, we see the behind of his bedmate Joanna, played by the charming and intimidating Olivia Munn. You also see their third bedmate naked, whoever she was.
B is for BROOKE: Brooke is the big sister of Adam, the teenage cub that Tatum welcomes into the stripper fold.
C is for CODY HORN: Horn plays Brooke, and she’s the best actor in the film, beating out the attention black hole that is Matthew McConaughey and even Tatum himself. Horn's quiet energy brings a sense of earnestness to the entire film, but she especially shines in the scene in which she watches both her brother and Mike strip. She transforms from blasé and annoyed as her bro awkwardly does his routine to dry-mouthed and aroused and uncomfortable as she watches the experienced (and flirtatious) Mike groove with finesse. Remember “Step Up”? Tatum knows how to dance.
D is for DANCING KINGS: Led by the bizarre ringleader Dallas, played by McConaughey, the circus of male strippers engages in choreographed dry-humping, hip-pumping numbers, replete with cheesy costumes and literal song choices.
E is for ENTREPENEUR: One of the best things about Brooke is that she doesn’t really buy Mike’s “I’m an entrepeneur” shtick – she’s thinking, “You’re just a stripper.”
F is for FURNITURE: Mike keeps up with side jobs to make enough money for his business.
G is for GYM: The mammoth stripper named Tarzan just stands around lifting weights while Dallas teaches Adam how to take off his clothes with panache. It’s an intensely awkward moment, with McConaughey crouching behind Pettyfer as they swivel their hips in unison before a final, unified thrust.
H is for HURRICANE: “Magic Mike” finds its sweaty home in the summertime in Tampa, Fla., but adverse weather hardly affects its crew: They celebrate the expansion of their club to Miami at Dallas’ crib while a hurricane rages outside. They’re oblivious, seated squarely in the lap of pill-popping and orgy-filled luxury – but through the windows and on the TV screen, we can see actual damage from the hurricane. It’s surreal.
I is for “I THINK WE SHOULD BE BEST FRIENDS”: After they spend their first whole night partying together, dancing and stripping and drinking and getting with girls, Adam says this to Mike. And it happens: They become best friends. This movie is as much about friendship, and friendship lost, as it is about the world of male strippers.
J is for JOANNA: The relationship between Joanna and Mike is the most realistic in the whole film. Joanna (Munn) is Mike’s casual hook-up and frequent threesome-mate. Mike can never remember what Joanna’s studying (psychology) but he can remember to give her a call every time he’s lonely.
K is for KNIGHT IN NOT-SO-SHINING ARMOR: There are a lot of savior-saved relationships in this movie – Mike saves Adam from poverty, Brooke saves Mike from promiscuity and Mike saves Brooke from a boring long-distance relationship. And Mike and Adam together save a sorority from having a boring night.
L is for LOANS: Renaissance man Mike needs cash so he can make his furniture design dreams come true, but his credit score is too low. The lady at the bank calls him a client in “distress.” “I read the news,” he tells her. “I know the ones in distress are y’all.”
M is for MCCONAUGHEY: His Dallas is magnetic and creepy and chilling as the business-owning badass.
N is for NICKNAMES: Big Dick Richie. Magic Mike. The Kid. Tarzan. Stripper names aren’t just for ladies, y’all. Channing Tatum’s real-life stripping colleague from back in the day was pretty pissed at him for using his moves and stories for the movie – his name? Awesome Austin.
O is for (LADIES’ NIGHT) OUT: Hopefully the audience in your movie theater won’t mirror the strip club audience, which is rife with hyena-like women, cackling and hungry.
P is for PEPSI: On his first day at the construction gig he finds on Craigslist, Adam takes two cans of Pepsi from the cooler at the site. The manager admonishes him, and stripping it is. This is big foreshadowing, telling us a lot about Adam’s character – he’s the type to take two Pepsis in every situation, even if “taking two Pepsis” means “being rude to his sister and losing all the drugs he’s supposed to sell.” It’s also chance for us to get used to Soderbergh's style of pushing dialogue to a quieter plane, so that it almost feels like side conversation.
Q is for QUEER: In spite of the in-your-face male nudity, there is not a lot of gayness in this movie. For a movie about male strippers, it skews hetero.
R is for REALITY: People, strippers and laymen alike, are debating the verisimilitude of “Magic Mike” all over the Internet. Whether or not the world of male strippers is really like this should plays little part in our judgment of how “realistic” the movie is – what matters are the relationships. And those feel real. The dialogue often feels ancillary and low-key, just like how people talk in real life.
S is for SODERBERGH: The director of “Erin Brockovich” and “Ocean’s Eleven” did a bang-up, stripped-down job on this one. His grimy fingerprints are all over it.
T is for TRAPPED: Most of the characters in this movie are trapped by something and most of them don't escape. The movie leaves its audience with more questions than answers and more loose ends than tied-up sub-plots.
U is for UNDERWEAR: One of Adam’s initiation rites is buying underwear with Magic Mike.
V is for VIRGIN: Adam’s not even 21 yet and he can’t dance for his life. So his shtick is that he’s the Kid, the Virgin, the new guy. He becomes far less precious as the seedy currents of stripping suck him under.
W is for WATER: When Mike and Brooke have one of their biggest moments, it’s walking through water on a sandbar. Overall, though, the movie feels hot and dry - warm orange light filters most of the scenes and most of the characters look like they could use a bottle of water – if not only so they don’t have to shave their legs without it. instead, they get shots.
X is for XQUISITE: Xquisite is the name of the club they work at in Tampa. Adam isn’t 21, but they decide to take a risk on him anyway. This is one of the movie’s flaws – he’s not even a great dancer, so why do they risk so much for him? Because he’s cute? It’s hard to believe there’s only one cute boy in Tampa.
Y is for YEARNING: Mike wants the American dream. From start to finish, that’s his goal. While Adam is into ass for the sake of ass, it’s a side dish for Mike. He cares about his furniture dreams more than any other character cares about anything else. One of the dance numbers features the men in combat gear, which they strip down to American flag-flavored unmentionables – in combination with the loan scene, this makes the whole movie feel like a jab at the notion of the American dream.
Z is for ZILLIONS: Zillions of pills popped, zillions of glass shards, zillions of bad decisions, zillions of g-strings.
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