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Magic MikeMagic Mike is surprisingly smart, despite the subject matter. (Warner Bros.)

Seems strange to talk about stillness in a movie about male strippers but one of the most remarkable things about Steven Soderbergh's new movie Magic Mike, is its restraint.

Soderbergh is a strange animal in the Hollywood menagerie. He's made movies large and small. Worked with some of the biggest actors in the biz. Now he's says he's getting ready to retire. Winding things down before he goes on a sabbatical to recharge his batteries.

But before he does, Soderbergh says he's only going to make "fun" movies. (Also in the pipe, a biopic of Liberace and a thriller with Channing Tatum.)

Now there's certainly a lot of fun in Magic Mike. There are dance sequences with leather chaps, a trench coat-themed Raining Men number, a dancer named Big Dick Richie and even Matthew "Naked Bongos" McConaughey in the role he was born to play.


Magic MikeDirector Steven Soderbergh, left, films actor Channing Tatum on the Magic Mike set. (Claudette Barius/Warner Bros.)

It's also smart. Soderbergh doesn't give in to the typical dramatic conventions. He cuts to the quick. And when his characters talk, it sounds like a conversation, not dialogue.

Part must be the roots of Magic Mike. Channing Tatum (who also co-produced the film) spent a year as a stripper in Tampa Florida when he was 18. On the set of Haywire, Soderbergh heard the story and challenged Tatum to make a movie out of it. Tatum hunkered down with screenwriter Reid Carolin and a story was born.

What makes Magic Mike more than a party film is the scope. Soderbergh might only want to make "fun" movies, but the man can't help himself. He's taken this dingy backroom look at the lives of exotic dancers and made the Scarface of Male Stripper films. First you get the money...then you get the women.

Magic Mike, Tito, Big Dick Richie and Dallas are all either chasing or casualties of the American dream. Mike wants to design furniture, but his cash-only lifestyle doesn't make for good credit. Dallas (McConaughey), the owner and ex-dancer is looking to expand while promising everyone a bigger piece of the profits. Then there's young Adam (Alex Pettyfer) a new dancer who Mike takes under his wing. After a few tenuous groin thrusts, the kid is soon stripping like a pro. But like Boogie Nights' Dirk Diggler, Adam quickly finds himself on the slippery slope of easy money, sex and drugs.

So back to the stillness. There's a scene in the men's Xquisite Club in Tampa. Brooke (Cody Horn), Adam's sister is there to find out why her little brother is using her Lady Bic and bringing home boxes of sailors caps and thongs.

 It's the year of Matthew McConaughey. (Warner Bros.)

Brooke stands there watching Adam on stage having his way with the ladies in a western-themed number. Soderbergh cuts back and forth between the squeals and Brook's impassive face, saying volumes with very little.

Soderbergh repeats the same trick near the end, except this time it's Magic Mike's turn, sitting backstage listening to the shop talk, while on stage Dallas offers his body to the crowd like a spray-tanned ritual sacrifice. Cut back to Mike, just staring.

Credit also goes to Tatum, who seems like a young Brad Pitt here. Handsome as all get out, but funny too. It's that natural ease and his sense of humour about himself that that cements his appeal.

And who knew that 2012 could be the year of Matthew McConaughey. The Texan kills as the southern seducer, the consummate lip-licking host on stage and an all-business gimlet-eyed professional when the show is over. Not to mention some of the best gyrations since John Turturro laced up his bowling shoes in the Big Lebowski.

RATING: 4 out of 5

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