Magic is overstating it a bit. Unless, perhaps, you’re in a drunken hen’s-night mood, in which case the copious displays of male flesh might prove sufficiently diverting in and of themselves. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
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Magic Mike is the latest film directed by the impressively eclectic Steven Soderbergh, whose career has encompassed everything from comedy to drama to biographical movies (he also did his own editing and cinematography under pseudonyms). Written by Reid Carolin, it is apparently based, to some extent, on star Channing Tatum’s own experiences working as a male ”exotic dancer” and the scenes in which he and his colleagues strut their stuff are certainly atmospheric and impressively choreographed if, ultimately, a little repetitive. It’s the offstage drama that is a bit disappointing and the film doesn’t have enough going on to justify its length.

Mike works by day in construction in Tampa, Florida and, as a self-styled entrepreneur, has other concerns going, including a car-detailing business (of which we see little).

He seems like a decent enough guy with hopes of pursuing his dream, designing custom-made furniture (but is having trouble getting a bank loan).

A few nights a week, however, he shows another side of himself at the strip club Xquisite, joining other buff, bronzed and oiled men who perform on stage for the titillation of the ladies (and the cash said ladies stuff in their g-strings). One night, Mike brings along a young building-site colleague, 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and the club boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) sees potential. ”The Kid”, as Adam is dubbed, is thrust on stage and, despite his initial awkwardness, is a hit with the ladies.

Mike means well and promises Adam’s protective sister Brooke (Cody Horn) he will look after the young man but – no surprise here – Adam soon gets caught up in some of the temptations of the business, which doesn’t do much for the interest Mike and Brooke slowly develop in each other.

And ”slowly” is the keyword. With fairly familiar themes of innocence corrupted and good intentions thwarted, Magic Mike is played out far too ponderously for its own good. Soderbergh spends a lot of time playing with filters and camera angles ensuring the movie has some visual pizzazz, especially in the club scenes. But not enough attention is paid to keeping the story and characters compelling. Boogie Nights, which dealt with some similar ideas, does a far better job.

Still, Tatum is likeable in his regular-guy way, Pettyfer is sympathetic even as his character spirals downward and McConaughey’s blend of narcissism, charm and sleaze works well. Horn is low-key to the point of dreariness.

If only Magic Mike had been as lean as its characters’ stomachs, rather than as puffed-up as their muscles.

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