A film about male strippers promises Showgirls (or at least Burlesque) levels of camp guilty-pleasure fun for female and gay-male audiences. But look again, because the trailers are misleading. This is a Steven Soderbergh film, and he's a serious director who enjoys twisting genres in intelligent ways. Even his comedies (the Ocean's Eleven series) are smart and surprising. Furthermore, the story is based on star Channing Tatum's own experiences as a stripper while he sought work as an actor, so the plot doesn't fall into the usual formula.
Tatum plays Mike, a construction worker who moonlights as a stripper in a women-only club in Tampa, Florida. When he notices hot, 19-year-old Adam (Pettyfer) on the building site, he invites him along to the club, where owner Dallas (McConaughey) is hoping to take the show to the Miami big time. Soon Adam is part of the team (which includes actor-hunks True Blood's Manganiello, White Collar's Bomer and CSI Miami's Rodriguez), but he also gets tempted by the darker side of the scene, namely girls and drugs.
The actors and script go out of their way to tell us that there's nothing remotely gay about these guys, as they all have girlfriends (thinly written roles for Horn, Munn and Keough) and are just doing this job for the cash.
Although they're clearly having a lot of fun too. Soderbergh lets scenes develop in a raw, natural way that makes the stripping scenes hilariously entertaining to watch, mainly because the actors all know how ridiculous the choreography is. Tatum and Pettyfer are terrific in the central roles, while McConaughey tears up the scenery in a performance that could possibly earn him supporting-actor attention at the end of the year.
In other words, this isn't the silly romp it looks like. Soderbergh keeps everything nicely grounded while still drawing out the offhanded humour in every scene. Even so, the script hits a glaringly false note in the drugs plotline that drives the final act, sending the characters into a contrived criminal-underworld climax that isn't remotely necessary. Frankly, Mike's personal drama and the guys' teasing sexuality are more than enough to make this film worth seeing.