Channing Tatum takes off in ‘Magic Mike’

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It may be the gayest non-gay movie of the season — Channing Tatum and a cast of famous-name hunks taking off their clothes in the stripper drama “Magic Mike.” After lots of hype, it opens Friday in Atlanta theaters.

As directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film isn’t as testosterone-fueld sexy as the trailers (above, view another) imply, but it’s an enjoyable ride worth traveling out for. And make no mistake. Even if just as a guilty pleasure or curiosity, gay audiences are likely to try it out.

Michael Lane, aka Big Mike (Tatum, view pics), is a 30-year-old entrepreneur who works odd jobs and dreams of having a furniture design business. One of those odd jobs is working at night in a Tampa strip club owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). His fellow strippers include Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello, view pics) and Ken (Matt Bomer, view pics).

One evening Mike is hanging with 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who he works with at a roofing gig, and takes him under his wing. He gets him a job at the Club Xquisite, but when an emergency happens, Adam gets to go onstage – and as he disrobes, the women go wild. He becomes a regular.

Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) isn’t keen when she finds out what Adam is doing, but there is an undeniable attraction between her and Mike. While Mike aims to get out of the business, though, Adam loves the easy money and the tilt-a-whirl of women he beds every night.

From a storytelling point of view, “Magic Mike” is no great shakes, but few will be seeing it for the dialogue or intricate plot twists. It’s interesting territory for Soderbergh, known for such films as “Erin Brockovich,” “sex, lies and videotape” and “Traffic,” which won him a directing Oscar.

At times it seems like the director is at a crossroads. Is he making a mainstream stripper comedy/drama, or a darker commentary on sex and money? To his credit, he is able to reconcile both, although its tones can waver and get melodramatic.

The scenes at the strip club are often funny and well choreographed, with most of the cast showing some skin. (The much-noted “R” rating for brief graphic nudity is for a sight gag that is borderline shocking, but none of the characters have any frontal nudity.) While there are no gay themes or characters, Soderbergh does create a bromance between Mike and Adam – and a very homoerotic scene where Dallas teaches Adam how to properly, slowly take off his clothes.

Tatum is quite charismatic. He’s the glue that holds the film together, even if his acting ability isn’t the strongest out there. He is a great dancer and looks authentic onstage. “Magic Mike” is autobiographical, based on Tatum’s own experiences, and Soderbergh certainly knows how to take advantage of him as a performer. Soderbergh also knows who the audience for the film is – Tatum flashes his bare ass in the very first scene.

McConaughey has one of his best roles as the over-the-hill Dallas. With this movie, his work in the gay themed “Bernie” and the upcoming “Killer Joe,” it’s been a huge year for the hunk turned character actor.

Pettyfer as well as Horn, in what could have been a stereotypical love interest role, are also engaging. The rest of the supporting cast is a little disappointing, though. Neither Manganiello of “True Blood” fame or openly gay Bomer have much to do outside of the dance sequences.

“Magic Mike” isn’t quite what you’d expect, but it’s solid summer entertainment. It will be seen by a lot of people who will come for the strip club scenes – but stay for Channing Tatum.

“Magic Mike” opens Friday in area cinemas

imageJim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance entertainment writer and public relations professional. He has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years and is the director of Atlanta’s annual Out On Film LGBT film festival.

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