‘Magic Mike’: Portrait of a male stripper

How do you become a movie star? There’s never been a single path to Hollywood, and there’s no logic to it, either. Just ask Channing Tatum.

The leading man of “Magic Mike” grew up in the rural South, moved from football to exotic dancing, popped up in Abercrombie &Fitch catalogs and Ricky Martin music videos, and ended up a heartthrob in “Step Up” and “G.I Joe.”

No logic to it. But the audience knows what it wants, and Tatum has the goods, circa 2012.

Not only that, but Tatum has drawn on his own experiences as an exotic dancer (I’m pretty sure that’s another term for stripper) in “Magic Mike,” a film loosely inspired by his youthful experiences in Tampa.

By the looks of it, you’ve got potential career suicide: Doesn’t a background as a male stripper get you dis-invited from “Inside the Actor’s Studio”? But hold off for a moment, because “Magic Mike” turns out to be interesting beyond its obvious future as a DVD at countless bachelorette parties to come.

For one thing, Tatum got his “Haywire” collaborator, Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh, to direct. And Soderbergh clearly sees “Magic Mike” as a chance to approximate the spirit of 1970s movies, where formulaic stories might be underscored with a moody, uncertain vibe.

That’s how the movie plays, even if the story sounds more typically ’80s: 30ish dancer Mike (played by Tatum) wonders what to do with his dreams of being a furniture designer, as he brings along a 19-year-old apprentice (Alex Pettyfer) and duels with the vain owner (Matthew McConaughey) of the strip club.

Though surrounded by one-night-stands, Mike moons over a “classy” woman (Olivia Munn) — but what about his protege’s straight-talking sister (Cody Horn)? Could she play a role in getting Mike down to Earth?

I like how Soderbergh shoots the film outside the club, bathing Tampa in a faded-gold light and allowing the actors to get into loose, funny repartee in shots that go on for a while.

Cody Horn is an unusual new presence, and Soderbergh even gets Alex Pettyfer (an inert element in “I Am Number Four”) to come to life in a couple of moments. McConaughey’s sleazy turn makes him like Joel Grey in “Cabaret,” but with six-pack abs: a soulless master of ceremonies basking in his own vanity.

Which brings us to the strip-club scenes. Any time Soderbergh might actually begin to appreciate Tatum’s skills as a dancer, the scene inevitably shifts to crotch-grabbing and grinding, played out against expected tunes (“It’s Raining Men,” of course) and the constant high-pitched “whooo!” of the club audience.

It’s hard to see any actual eroticism in this cartoon of sex, so I wonder what got Soderbergh interested in the project. (Given the reaction of the preview crowd, it’s not hard to see what got the target audience interested.)

Maybe Soderbergh’s focus is in how the world of “Magic Mike” revolves not around sex but around money; almost every scene contains a reference to money, or the lack of it. If the heroine of “Flashdance” exulted in performance, Mike is like an accountant, saving his earnings and applying to the bank with his portfolio in hand. That’s the most amusing touch in this well-made but peculiar exercise.

“Magic Mike” (3 stars)

Channing Tatum stars as an exotic dancer (he’s a stripper) in Tampa, in a film inspired by the actor’s own experiences in the field. Director Steven Soderbergh can’t do much with the anti-erotic scenes at the strip club, but he brings a moody vibe outside the club, where it’s clear this is a movie about money, not about sex.

Rated: R, for nudity, language, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Stanwood, Meridian, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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