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Ten Years Ago: Magic Mike Looked at Stripping in the Great Recession 

Revisiting Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike

Magic Mike, director Steven Soderbergh’s comedy-drama based loosely on star Channing Tatum’s youthful experiences as a male stripper, didn’t seem at the time like a candidate to attain cinematic immortality. 

But the film, released ten years ago in June of 2012, was a true triumph, and probably the best movie ever made about strippers. It helped kick off the moment known as the “McConaissance,” cemented Tatum as a movie star, and was one of the bigger hits of Soderbergh’s career (the director, as usual, shot and edited the film himself, both under pseudonyms.) 

The story of the Xquisite All-Male Dance Revue had fantastic, frequently hilarious dance sequences. It also boasted an eclectic supporting cast and was very much a movie of the Great Recession era. Many of the characters have dreams that are deferred, with Tatum’s Mike stripping (and working a side job in construction) because he can’t get a loan for his furniture business. 

The film begins with Adam (Alex Pettyfer) meeting Mike on a construction job, leading Mike to recruit him to perform at the strip club, even though his stage presence and dancing skills leave quite a bit to be desired. 

Matthew McConaughey
Image: Warner Brothers

Magic Mike, while it has a crime subplot, isn’t quite a crime film, though it’s structured a bit like Goodfellas, with a young, wild-eyed guy getting brought into a sin-based industry, and with cocaine making an appearance at about the midpoint, and with predictable results. 

Sure, the film had some weaknesses. Pettyfer, who played audience surrogate “The Kid,” was almost a complete non-entity in what should have been a pivotal role, and Cody Horn, as his sister and Tatum’s love interest, wasn’t much better; neither returned either for the sequel or many other movies afterward. The story gets somewhat bogged down in a third-act crime plot that the movie’s heart isn’t in. 

But the rest of the  “cock-rocking kings of Tampa” more than made up for it, with McConaughey, truly delivering in his mentor role; his Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club and his legendary cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street would follow in 2013, with his season of True Detective debuting in early 2014. 

Magic Mike

 Tatum’s not far behind, while Kevin Nash, the wrestling veteran, was a nice surprise as stripper Tarzan, especially since he was in his 50s at the time. Joe Manganiello, as “Big Dick Richie,” delivered the film’s biggest laugh, with a strategically-placed penis pump. 

The film’s legacy has been robust. A sequel, Magic Mike XL, arrived in 2015, during Soderbergh’s short-lived “retirement” from directing, although he was credited as the cinematographer. A third film, Magic Mike’s Last Dance, is set to arrive later this year, with Soderbergh once again directing. The film also, naturally, inspired a live stage show in Las Vegas, along with a reality show called Finding Magic Mike. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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