At the work site, Mike meets Adam (Pettyfer), whose forfeited football scholarship ended his chance at college. He's trying aimlessly to break into construction, or cell phone sales, or anything that will keep his conscientious sister Brooke (a lovely Cody Horn) from nagging him. Brooke's boyfriend, lording his importance as an insurance adjuster over his date and her brother, brags of his toughness with his clients: "I just have to be the guy who has to tell them they don't get to rebuild their houses," with a strange kind of pride—he's the guy enforcing an end to the American dream. When Mike takes Adam for a night out on Tampa's club scene and tells him that he needs to lose the tennis shoes he wore to the construction site, Adam explains, "These are the only shoes I have." That small glimpse of pitifulness convinces Mike to "adopt" Adam. He takes him to a bar to see how girls respond, then throws him on the stage at the strip club where he works. Adam instantly becomes a star.
Mike and his friends have a vague idea of what economic success looks like. Dallas, the club-owner played by McConaughey, dreams of having children whom he can force to watch Jim Cramer's Mad Money. Mike dons glasses for a meeting with a bank officer about a small-business loan. But they're naive about the obstacles that face them. When the loan officer tells Mike his credit score is unacceptably low, he pushes a pile of cash at her, asking "Does this look distressed?" And as Tatum's considerable charm falters, he slips into one of the many new modes he's shown this year in movies from The Vow to 21 Jump Street, telling her bitterly, "I read the papers. The only thing that's distressed is y'all."
Stripping turns out to be an unreliable means to success. When Adam, giddy from his first night on stage, starts handing money to Dallas as part of his cut, Dallas tells him magnanimously, "Every man keeps every dollar he makes on that stage. Plus the 50 that I owe you." But later in the movie, when Mike finds out that Dallas has given Adam a partnership in a new club he plans to open in Miami—and slashed the share Mike was promised—Dallas is quick to remind Mike of the limits to his value. "You are worth the cash you pry out of their purses, and you know that better than anyone," Dallas says.
Unlike most stripper movies, this is a world where the nastiness happens off-stage, not on it. No female customers push too far or ask too much of the men they've come to admire. Instead, they're amazed by their own daring in touching the men at all. And the stripping sequences are gorgeously choreographed, even as Soderbergh keeps cutting away from the creative costumes and beautiful men's bodies to reveal the small-time tackiness of the club they perform in. For the first, happy half of the movie, this sun-bleached Tampa looks like a perfect place to while away some time, and stripping seems like a dream. "I have money," Adam tells Mike. "I can fuck who I want to fuck. I have freedom, thanks to you, man."