Channing Tatum, drawing on his own start as a male stripper, comes full circle with a career-best performance as the star of <em>Magic Mike</em>.

Whatever the lusty, circus-like squalor of the job in the crosshairs of the surprisingly fine Magic Mike, the film is an honest look at the culture of a particular workplace. Of course, said workplace — the world of male stripping — involves flyaway pants, dry humping, bumping and grinding in the night, shamelessly campy erotic role-playing, dirty dancing, and a license to be licentious. So who woulda thunk that a movie about the “cock-rocking kings of Tampa” could rise to a level above its cultural station?

In various ways, this is Channing Tatum’s story. The hunky young actor’s past experience in the “business” was a source of material for Reid Carolin’s script, and the actor himself — who has previously shown glimpses of a special talent — puts in his finest screen work to date. High points include a hypnotically inarticulate aria of dialogue with his potential love interest (the quietly magnetic Cody Horn). He’s an entrepreneur plying his underwear wares for a larger end, who half-accidentally recruits “the kid” (Alex Pettyfer) into the biz.

Critical to the success of the venture, though, is the assured hand of director Steven Soderbergh, who adds another title to the plus side of his intriguing, if wildly uneven, filmography. In Magic Mike, all the pieces fit together nicely, somehow. We recognize the dynamic and balances of characters, from Mathew McConaughey’s stripper mini-mogul role (in his thespian sweet spot, as a lubricous, unrepentant sleazeball) to the fast-life–loving glee of “the kid.”

Soderbergh, whose films include Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Traffic, and the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, not only sneaks in the aroma of artfulness with a naturalistic narrative but also happily burrows into the campy erotic-kitsch of the strip routines, walking a wobbly line between moralizing and soaking up the nasties of the scenery. Inventive camera work slips into the mix, as well, as with emotionally foreshadowing tracking shots of our star-crossed lovers and a group sex scene with a raging tropical storm in the background: You do the metaphorical math.

Magic Mike takes an even-minded look at the stripper’s bump and grind, accent on both the bump and the grind of the matter.


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