Eight-pack abdominal muscles, greased and rippling in tune to house music. Tear-away pants and thongs. Shirtless firemen and soldiers doing pelvic thrusts. Channing Tatum. Romance. Comedy. Joe "Is he a real man, or just CGI?" Manganiello.
These are the things many women and gay men would like to see in a film. They are the things offered in Steven Soderbergh’s R-rated dramedy "Magic Mike." Already, the squeals, laughs and editorials both breathless and brainy can be found on every one of the Internet’s pop culture corners.
They’re also things (particularly when combined into a two-hour film) that most red-blooded straight men would run from, screaming.
It's a strange attitude, really. After all, beefcakes are a staple of "guy flicks," but they’re presented carefully, and wrapped up in so much testosterone that it’s OK.
Look at "300." There's as much (perhaps more!) naked manflesh than "Magic Mike," but it's punctuated by just the right amount of blood, beheadings, prowess and courage. Sure, girls could see that movie (and love it) but it was made for men, by men, and there’s nothing wrong with that kind of chest-thumping camaraderie.
Superheroes strip down too, but they have to. Thor took off his shirt in a slow and teasing fashion, but how else is the Nordic God of Thunder going to get dressed? Faster than a normal guy? And of course he’s ripped. He’s Thor. Guys are fine with that, even if they roll their eyes at the sighs of the ladies.
"Magic Mike" is a decidedly different beast. It lets it all hang out there for the women to tuck twenties into. It's not trying to pull a fast one for men, and market itself as an action flick or bromantic comedy. No one sees that trailer and thinks "Maybe they're secretly FBI Agents. Or maybe it's a Judd Apatow kind of flick."
Nope. It's about an industry focused on the pleasure and entertainment of women and gay men, and it's unabashedly marketing itself as such. Look, says the marketing, this flick is full of sexy, sexy men. (And there might be a romantic comedy here too, says the trailer, happily ignoring all the men who are scowling at the sight of those biceps.)
A movie about male strippers? Starring Tatum? Featuring that True Blood werewolf that makes Hugh Jackman feel like he needs to go the gym? Thanks, but no thanks. Take your mom or girlfriends. Count your man out. Or should you?
Actually, a lot of men seem surprisingly open to seeing "Magic Mike" for one reason: It’s directed by Steven Soderbergh. This is a director who revels in being unpredictable and unmarketable in the stories he tackles, and who excels no matter what genre sandbox he's playing in. Even if you’re not a dedicated Soderbergh fan, you have liked at least one (or two, or three…) of his films. He’s a good artist to gamble your movie ticket money on. If he’s taking on this story, there has to be something to it beyond sexiness and camp. Just what that factor is has intrigued many a male cinephile. Soderbergh has sold them.
A lot of men have also come around to the Channing Tatum fan camp. After deriding him for years, they’ve become open to his comedic gifts. He’s proved he has no pretensions, and can make good use (and fun) of his dumb jock persona. He also proved he can turn off the affable charm, and viciously beat up anyone he is ordered to. Did you see "Haywire?" Did you see how dead his eyes were when he threw hot coffee into Gina Carano’s face? He needs his own action franchise, stat.
There’s also the fact that "Magic Mike" is based on Tatum and the seedy, stripping life he once led. Everyone – male and female – loves a true story and while "Mike" takes liberties, the reality of it was Tatum’s. Even if one isn’t completely sold on his acting, sheer curiosity of what his life once was is a very intriguing angle. After all, how many male strippers do you know? How many will ever tell you what it’s like on and off stage? Exactly.
Who can resist peeking at a sweaty, objectifying subculture, especially when a recognizable "G.I. Joe" actor came out of it? Men are just as curious as women about the lives their fellow men have lived. Whether it's stripping or sports, human stories are interesting.
But you might say that these reactions aren't really those of the average male moviegoer. Ordinary Joe could care less who Steven Soderbergh is, and won’t be drawing comparisons to "The Girlfriend Experience." He still holds that Nicholas Sparks movie against Tatum. He doesn’t care that he was once a stripper – he probably hates him more for it. He’s not going to watch That Hot Werewolf Guy take anything off, even if he was almost Zack Snyder’s Superman. And wait, is that Alex Pettyfer? No way. No way, man.
Those guys … are they going to see "Magic Mike"?
Perhaps. Curiosity might draw them in, even if they would rather die than admit it to their wives and girlfriends, and even if it’s on a dimly acknowledged level. What is it like for guys to be trotted out like so many slabs of beefcake? How do women really react to that? Is this the kind of thing my significant other likes? Men, just as much as women, suffer from the anxieties of Not Being Hot Enough, and the fears of being dumped for a Tatum or Manganiello. They might go into "Magic Mike" just to see what they’re up against. They just aren’t going to tell anyone until the film comes up during a backyard barbeque or water cooler chat, and they can shrug and say "I saw it. It was actually OK. Not a girly kind of flick at all."
Besides, it is just a movie … and what man is afraid of a movie?