Dir. Steven Soderbergh
(2012, R, 110 minutes)

I didn’t expect a superficially titillating film about male strippers from a director like Steven Soderbergh, but I’m surprised Magic Mike is as downbeat as it is. Starring Channing Tatum as the title exotic dancer at a small Florida club, and inspired, perhaps loosely, by the actor’s own experiences as a stripper, the film is most similar in style to Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. This film is a bit better overall, with a stronger dramatic arc, but Girlfriend Experience worked in one way this film doesn’t: it didn’t moralize.

Girlfriend Experience starred real-life porn star Sasha Grey as a high-class New York escort, and it approached her profession not as good or bad, but as an accepted part of her life, which was a more interesting approach than trying to reason away her career choice. Magic Mike, however, plays more like a cautionary tale. We’re encouraged to sympathize with Mike because his real aspiration is to design custom furniture, and when he introduces brash 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to the club, the young man’s success soon turns to promiscuity, drug use, and eventually drug dealing.

Adam has a sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), whose purpose in the story is to provide Mike with a virtuous alternative to his profession. The club’s manager is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who is charming and loves his business, but he is mostly driven by self-interest and delusions of grandeur. The club’s DJ, Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias), is the one who introduces Adam to drugs.

Most of the elements of the strip club seem designed to convince us that young, enterprising Mike is too good for it, and the other dancer characters – played by Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello, and Kevin Nash – aren’t developed well enough to provide any counterpoint. The film doesn’t turn into a public service announcement, per se – Soderbergh isn’t that hyperbolic – but there is nevertheless an air of judgment about what was essentially the film’s primary selling point: hunks taking their clothes off.