Magic Mike: Check Out the Pecs on Channing Tatum!

When Channing Tatum stood up and revealed his bare ass to the camera a minute or two into Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike—which the actor conceived of and produced based on his own experience as a teenage dancer in an all-male exotic revue—the audience in my screening burst into a near-unanimous extended cheer. Tatum's appeal is based on working-class humility paired with otherworldly charisma, an impossible body, and the intelligence to make his use of it seem effortless. Now, as then, he never fails to give us what we paid to see. But what is he really revealing? The highly calculated Magic Mike is pure Hollywood self-mythology—a neo-Depression musical, a wish-fulfillment fantasy for shitty times, another origin-of-the-star story. Tatum's Mike is the main attraction at Xquisite, a Tampa pop-up strip club whose male dancers cater to an all-female clientele. It's also a self-reflexive portrait of three distinct points in the Hollywood himbo life cycle: Tatum's 30-year-old Mike mentors scrappy newbie Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old rebel with neither cause nor clue whom Mike brings into the Xquisite fold; Mike himself was discovered on the street by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the club's manager/main hustler. An extremely conventional backstage story is occasionally enlivened by Soderbergh's aesthetic curveballs—the halo-shaped lens flares suggesting Adam's halcyon view of the club; a long night of debauchery with major plot consequences rendered as an experimental study in color and shadow. But the denouement, built around the hoariest of contrivances concerning the cyclical nature of stardom, squarely casts its lot against self-commodification, by extension damning the margins and endorsing the mainstream.

 
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