I'M LOATH to argue that "Magic Mike" is not really about stripping, because stripping will absolutely pay the bills for this movie.
I could barely hear the dialogue for the screams of the women. I think they were women. They begin in scene one, when the camera follows naked Channing Tatum into the bathroom, and builds to rock-the-house delirium when Tatum and co-star Matthew McConaughey go thong to thong, playing lead attractions at a Tampa, Fla., club.
Put this movie in 3-D, and you'd walk out on a bed of dollar bills.
And the movie is a pitch-perfect slice of stripper life — a dream project for Tatum, who once worked as an exotic dancer, and who gives the movie a lived-in eye for specifics. "Magic Mike" is a bit like "The Wrestler" set in the world of male strippers — quick, vivid sketches of the strip club's troupe, inside information about equipment (there's equipment to enhance your equipment), a hundred documentary details (I loved the shot of Tatum ironing his crumpled currency).
You get a convincing sense of the dancer's life onstage (the routines are a shrewd blend of kitsch — it's raining men! — and craft) and offstage.
Tatum plays Mike, who also works a car-detailing job and construction job, hustling to save enough money to start his own furniture business.
He is, as he sheepishly tells his first serious girlfriend prospect (Cody Horn), an "entrepreneur." He enjoys the benefits of being a minor celeb in his sex-drenched, after-hours subculture (it's here the movie earns its R-rating), but he's sincere when he talks about making the jump to a craftsman/businessman, and has a business plan and a safe full of money to back his dream.
This leads to a clever scene of Mike taking his pitch to a banker, hoping for the loan to make it happen. On one level, it's another performance — Mike uses the uniform of cop, a soldier, etc., onstage. Here, in a different spotlight, he's playing the role of earnest businessman, wearing a costume, three-piece suit and spectacles, trying to get what he wants with a stack of bills and charm. He halfway unnerves the female loan officer across the desk.
He's a doer, with three jobs, a stack of money, ambition to burn. He has everything but a credit score, and he's turned away.
It's here, beneath the stuff-strutting, that the movie's accumulated details add up to something that might speak to a generation of Mikes. People working two and three jobs, trying to make it in a harsh new economy marked by limited resources and opportunities. Every day Mike pesters his boss for "equity," and you can take that literally or otherwise.
Not to worry, Tatum fans — "Magic Mike" never gets too far away from the strip club. Or from its durable, "Stage Door" plot — Mike recruits and grooms a new ingenue (Alex Pettyfer), an act that humanizes Mike, and also makes him expendable.
You love the verisimilitude that Tatum brings to this role, but just as adroitly cast is McConaughey. There's always been a bit of the peacock in Matt, and sometimes it gets in the way of his characters. That's not an issue here. His tail feathers are incautiously arrayed, and he shakes them lustily.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at www.philly.com/keepitreel.