If there’s one thing that makes me sad for heterosexual men, it’s that so many of them haven’t seen Magic Mike. They assumed they’d be in for nonstop tight close-ups of Spandex-packaged junk, exposure to unrealistically chiseled and waxed male bodies, and barely plotted sexploitation aimed at the gaze of those who are sexually attracted to men. They were therefore deprived of one of the most joyful cinematic experiences of the last five years, a great Steven Soderbergh movie that contained only maybe fraction of the brazen sexuality they probably feared.
What I’ve learned from watching other male stripper movies is that nothing else compares to them. Unfortunately, in trying to track down selections from before the year 2000, I was stymied by the fact that they’re only available on foreign DVDs or collectible VHS tapes that sell for $80 on eBay. That said, I was able to watch two early-2000s efforts based on the life of Chippendales founder Steve Banerjee and the two post-Magic Mike efforts that have come to market. It wasn’t necessarily a cinematically rewarding task, but it was a fascinating one.
Here’s an amuse-bouche: this scene from Slapshot, in which Michael Ontkean performs the single greatest striptease in film history. Also, before we start, a note on The Full Monty: That movie predates all of these films and makes for a tidy midpoint between the lost-to-VHS sexploitation of the ‘80s and more recent attempts at male-stripper storytelling, but the beloved working-class film about unemployed steel workers who put on a male revue to earn quick cash lacks the actual strip-club setting or professional stripper characters who populate the movies below. While The Full Monty touches on common themes of stigma and economic necessity, there’s a real difference between stories about strippers and stories about that one time there was a strip show, and I’ve focused on the former.
5. Just Can’t Get Enough (2002)
This feature takes on the bloody, crime-ridden history of the Chippendales. After watching it, I can say it’s a triumph of the brand that we don’t hear “Chippendales” and immediately think of murder-for-hire and suicide.
The story goes that Chippendales founder Steve Banerjee was arrested for hiring a hitman to kill business partner/troupe choreographer Nick De Noia and some strippers who formed a rival troupe. (The first hit happened; the second didn’t, and resulted in his indictment.) Plot twist! Banerjee killed himself in prison before sentencing to ensure the business would pass to his wife before the government could seize it. Also, he was partners at one point with Paul Snider, the man who murdered Playmate Dorothy Stratten. No Bob Fosse has yet stepped up to make the Star 80 of the Chippendales.
Just Can’t Get Enough is told through the eyes of Chad (Jonathan Aube), a recent MBA grad who becomes a host at the Chippendales club. As a newbie, he receives advice like, “Look each and every one of them in the eyes like you’re about to penetrate them. Even the fatties.”
This film takes an odd approach to Banerjee’s (Shelley Malil) being Indian—he’s dressed in collarless shirts and cardigans and saddled with a speech impediment, plus there’s a pointless scene where he randomly starts talking about samosas and Diwali in a bathroom. At one point, a homophobic dancer who fetishizes Indian women gets a BJ from a man dressed as an Indian woman.
De Noia is also a caricature here, telling the dancers he wants to take this show to “BROOOOADWAYYYY.” He induces gay panic in them before giving a little speech about how much the artistic integrity of this male-stripper troupe means to him. The acting is terrible, across the board; it’s so reminiscent of porn that, for a few moments, I forgot I wasn’t actually just watching porn. It’s got 1986 Cinemax quantities of boobs, largely because the dancers are nonstop fucking their customers backstage and in private rooms. There’s also one (flaccid) penis.
At 95 minutes, this thing is too long and absolutely grating: It’s one of those movies where you hope everyone dies. Not to mention that this story might be slightly cursed: Tony Scott talked about doing a Chippendales movie, and he’s dead now. Malil, who we all know better as Haziz from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is serving a life sentence for stabbing his girlfriend 20 times. There have been reports that Alan Ball is planning on making a film based on these events, with Ben Stiller as De Noia. Someone should tell them.
Rating: The pity dollar thrown onstage before leaving.
4. The Chippendales Murder (2000)
This USA Network original film stars a pre-Lost Naveen Andrews in the Steve Banerjee role, here portrayed as an ambitious nightclub impresario, bent on cultural assimilation, who is also quick to point out the difference between real and knockoff Chippendale furniture. His obsession foreshadows his disputes over copyright and licensing of the Chippendales with De Noia (Paul Hipp). This version of Banerjee gets mad at De Noia for doing unauthorized shows, but weird time jumps and sloppy writing make it hard to really understand how the subsequent crimes went down.
For a made-for-TV movie, the dance numbers are surprisingly edgy: It’s got a lot of exposed butt cheek for basic cable, and the Rocky Horror tribute costumes in one scene get pretty close to being drag. It’s better than the actual feature made about this story, but it isn’t good. At the time, a review in Variety concluded, “Moral of the story? It’s hard to feel sympathetic for a couple of strip-club operators.” Which is harsh, but understandable after sitting through this.
Rating: Let me get change for this $5 bill so I can tip you.
3. Chocolate City (2015)
This movie about young Michael (Robert Ri’chard), a college student who stumbles into stripping to the chagrin of his churchgoing mother (Vivica A. Fox) and delight of his slacker older brother (DeRay Davis), was released straight to VOD in May despite the fact that it featured Ginuwine himself stripping to “Pony.” Magic Mike is mentioned almost immediately in the first strip-club scene. Unfortunately, this is no Magic Mike, and when the movie is brought up again, all it does is remind the viewer that they could be watching that instead of this weirdly conservative ripoff.
Director Jean-Claude La Marre is best known for his Pastor Jones movies and television series, in which he plays a pastor who struggles to stay on the righteous path. And the tone of Chocolate City made a lot more sense taken in the context of La Marre’s previous work, but it means the movie awkwardly tries to be both titillating and preachy. For instance: Mike’s mom is horrified when she finds out her son is having sex and tells him not to bring condoms into her house, but laughs with relief when she finds out he’s a stripper and says, “You are a cutie pie!”
The movie pulls a reverse Showgirls when the evil established star arranges to have Mike’s ass beaten in the parking lot, after which drama ensues with his barely characterized good-girl love interest. She doesn’t catch on for real until she sees him at the club; he promises to quit, but it ends with him receiving an offer to do a private party in Japan for $100,000, upon which he looks at the camera like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
While the strip club scenes are hot and the dancing is great—and I would have watched this for Ginuwine alone—the movie doesn’t miss a chance to remind us that Mike wouldn’t have gotten mixed up in this whole business if he wasn’t trying to help his mom out in a pinch, which is a major buzzkill. Can’t we look at some obliques without having to think about this kid’s mom and Jesus?
Rating: Here’s $5, I know you need to pay tuition.
2. La Bare (2014)
After Magic Mike, Joe Manganiello decided to make a documentary about Dallas’s La Bare, the legendary male strip club and home of Randy “Master Blaster,” the man who partly inspired the character of Dallas Rising in Magic Mike. La Bare is a Texas institution; Texans may not have heard of the Chippendales, but they know what goes on there.
The La Bare dancers are fantastic characters: Besides Randy, there’s the goth surfer stripper named Austin, the almost-too-convincing cop character JD, and a military man-turned-punk Cesar. Like most documentaries about strippers, it’s best when it’s just left in a room with the performers ... or their moms ... or their multigenerational fan clubs. (Related: Randy’s been dancing for all the women in one family since the ’70s).
But a weird tonal shift handcuffs the fun. A major tragedy that befell La Bare—the murder of a star dancer in a nasty self-defense incident—just sort of pops up all of a sudden, complete with archival video footage and somber music. Once they tell that very sad story, it’s BAM, right back to the butt cheeks on stage, making for viewing whiplash. OKAY, MURDER OVER! BACK TO THE SHOW!
Still, the footage of Randy (and his business-manager mom) alone is worth the time spent watching La Bare, although I wish that Confederate Flag underpants weren’t in his wardrobe. Or at least that he’d pick a song other than Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song” while wearing them. (Speaking of which, this film’s soundtrack includes Purity Ring, Grimes, and Holy Ghost!, which makes for a stark contrast to the actual songs played in the club, like “Dazzey Duks” and “Sharp Dressed Man.”)
Rating: I’ll take a lap dance.
1. Magic Mike (2012)
I’m still basking in the afterglow of Magic Mike XXL—and Joe Manganiello’s stunning “Closer” number, which made me engage in the shameful act of movie theater tweeting for the first time in my life. Assigning it a proper ranking now would be impossible, but I need to get this off of my chest: What the hell is wrong with all of you who didn’t go see the first one? Do you see now what I was talking about?
I’m still mad Matthew McConaughey didn’t get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as Dallas Rising, the role he was born to play: He nails the constantly hustling strip-club manager and actually says, “All right, all right, all right” while carrying bongos to a beach party. I will look back on this as a turning point in his career, and at Dallas Rising as the role he had to play to get to Ron Woodruff. I’m not entirely convinced that, when he won the Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, the Academy wasn’t really voting to rectify their mistake in not recognizing him the year before.
Ignore Alex Pettyfer as newbie Adam and Cody Horn as his sister Brooke; he’s annoying and she’s flat, though the latter is possibly the result of direction. They’re Plot Device 1 and Plot Device 2: Mike is trying to move on from the business and maybe find real love, but it’s fun and his credit is bad, plus he can’t stop himself from helping the idiot baby stripper who gets involved with drugs.
One of my favorite things about how this movie treats stripping is its portrayal of the physical toll of the work. Kevin Nash wears a knee brace, and Manganiello hurts his back doing a stage trick; stripping really is a sport at times. Even though female strippers don’t have to perform choreographed group numbers every night or literally pick up customers to perform fake oral sex, it’s a tough business, and this is the one movie that acknowledges that.
This is a visually glorious movie, too, starting with one of the single most memorable shots of the last 10 years: Big Dick Richie (that’s Manganiello) pumping up his namesake in the dressing room. The dance numbers work on their own and give us important information about the characters; one of the group numbers, a military-themed bit, plays with homo- and gun-eroticism and lets McConaughey either pay tribute to or totally mock Uncle Sam, depending on your reference points. As for Mike himself, one of his best scenes comes when he’s doing a vigorous, impassioned Dark Dubstep Dance; the stripper burnout shows in his eyes and the angst of his performance. These numbers are in this movie so we can see shirtless men dance, but they also do serious storytelling work.
Rating: Where’s the champagne room?
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