Channing Tatum lays himself bare in more ways than one in this delightful, surprise package of a movie about male strippers. Despite having to get his kit off at regular intervals, his turn as Magic Mike is his least self-conscious performance to date and his most endearing.
The loose, naturalistic approach of director Steven Soderbergh probably helps bring the best out of his star, but Tatum is also the producer, tapping into his early experiences on the 'exotic dancing' circuit. What's startlingly clear from the beginning is that, unlike The Full Monty, there is no noble cause here - the guys are in it for the money, the kicks and the girls.
In fact, it gets off to a demoralising start as Mike wakes up after a threesome and forgets the name of the third party. It's an awkward moment that guarantees a laugh (and Tatum's bare behind, a gasp), but there's a worrying sense that this might be a cynical portrayal. Instead, it becomes clear that Mike, getting into his thirties, isn't so enamoured by the lifestyle anymore.
Mike tries to recapture the thrill vicariously through a young recruit Adam 'The Kid' (played by Alex Pettyfer with increasing cockiness) which brings him into conflict with Adam's hardworking sister Brooke (a snappish Cody Horn). At first Mike enjoys the verbal sparring, but as he becomes aware of his feelings for Brooke, he begins to see himself in a harsher light.
The faltering romance never quite catches fire, but what does tug the heartstrings is Mike's gradual tip towards self-loathing. He becomes careless - taking his eyes off The Kid, who is going off the rails with the wrong type of girls and dealing drugs on the side. Mike doesn't have time enough to navel-gaze before the pace picks up, forcing him to wake up and change the beat.
That's not say Mike is inert. Of course the star of the Step Up series moves incredibly well in frequent stage pieces brilliantly choreographed with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour. And as club owner Dallas, Matthew McConaughey is a scream, playing it greasy as a girl stripper's pole. His master-class in the art of grinding has to be one of the funniest scenes ever committed to celluloid.
But even Dallas seems vulnerable, still craving the lustful attentions of a female audience at an age when too much bump-and-grinding could lead to emergency hip replacement. The rest of the troupe are just eager to please, giving a sly wink with every thrust. It's entirely camp, never sleazy, with Soderbergh focussed as much on the backstage camaraderie between the guys.
Essentially, this is a rites-of-passage yarn for the modern male as he comes to the realisation that there might be more to life than cheap thrills. Still, there's an irrepressible spirit of mischief that holds it all together. Cheeky humour, tender emotion and taut abs - it's the dream combination.