Stephen Soderbergh’s 2012 film “Magic Mike” was a surprise on all fronts, bringing an unexpected wave of critical and commercial acclaim to the director, who also transformed Channing Tatum into one of Hollywood’s hottest commodities. However, one of Tatum’s co-stars, actor and stuntman Joe Manganiello, decided to try and understand his character, a stripper known as Big Dick Ritchie, a little bit better. After the success of “Magic Mike,” Manganiello ventured out to a male strip club called La Bare, located in Dallas, Texas, to discover the truth about the male entertainment industry.
Since its auspicious beginnings in 1979, La Bare has been one of the world’s premier male entertainment clubs, one that has treated audiences for almost forty years. Led by the larger than life Randy “Master Blaster” Ricks, a self-proclaimed “205 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal,” La Bare is staffed by some of the most muscular, attractive, and talented men in the state. Among them are JD, who has dreams to open up his own restaurant; Channing, the fresh blood of the group, a 19-year old dancer with dreams of being the next Magic Mike; Axl Goode, a sweet and sensitive acrobat; and Cesar, an Army veteran who has only slept with five women in his entire life. Together, they are the men of La Bare, one of the most wild, fun, and surprisingly efficient clubs on Earth.
Manganiello dedicates most of the film’s first half to introducing each member of the club, allowing them to share their story and establish the varying personalities that walk in and out of La Bare’s doors. Although the structure itself is inherently repetitive, Manganiello is able to transcend the formula with absolutely gorgeous cinematography by DP Andrew Wheeler and tight, powerful editing by Chris Groban, as well as the unique stories told by each of the club’s dancers. One of Manganiello’s greatest strengths as a director is his ability to capture beautiful, telling moments throughout the film’s brisk 90-minute runtime. “La Bare” is more cinematic than it has any right to be, utilizing a constant soundtrack and its enthusiastic subjects to create an honest portrayal that never feels forced or scripted.
One of the film’s most jarring personalities is that of Nick, La Bare’s house DJ. A former dancer, Nick was relegated to duties behind-the-booth when he wasn’t able to maintain the muscle tone required for the main stage. Viewers are introduced to Nick through a profanity-laden story involving tangents related to how many Playboy models he’s slept with and his overall “ability” in the bedroom, which gives way to the saddening realization that Nick, like many of La Bare’s seasoned employees, is living in the shadow of his prime.
In its second half, Manganiello turns the camera on a tragedy that struck La Bare mere weeks before production began. The club’s most talented and popular dancer, 27-year-old Ruben Riguero, was shot and killed outside the club after a brief altercation led to gunfire in the club’s parking lot. The film quickly but sensitively switches gears and becomes something of a catharsis for the men of La Bare, who lost a friend, a brother, and a mentor. It’s obvious that the camaraderie between this group of dancers is stronger than anyone could ever imagine, and Manganiello portrays it with a gravitas that’s mostly foreign to first-time filmmakers. Without resorting to desperate and emotionally manipulative tactics, Manganiello makes clear that the death of Riguero, who went by the name Angelo on-stage, goes on to define these men weeks, months, and years after his passing.
Alternately, Manganiello explores the idea of how the dancers of La Bare affect its predominantly female patrons. Some of the club’s regular customers are interviewed about their feelings towards the dancers, and a number of stories about why women come to La Bare are told, including one that involves a certain customer shedding nearly $12,000 dollars in ones. These sections of “La Bare” are some of the film’s most socially poignant scenes, and one can’t help but feel like Manganiello could have spent more time on it, but it’s easy to argue that it doesn’t get any more telling than a sentiment echoed by many of La Bare’s customers: “I come to La Bare because I feel pretty. I feel wanted.”
More than anything, “La Bare” is a study of contrasts that highlights the beauty of youth and the inevitable detriment that comes when one forgets that, eventually, the party has to end. One particularly affecting scene juxtaposes “Master Blaster” and his bi-weekly injections of facial enhancement with a totally uncynical smile from one of La Bare’s younger dancers who says, “this job won’t ever get old.” Full of beautiful moments and an underlying melancholy, “La Bare” is one of the most unconventionally emotional films of the year, one that will surely rock your perception of what it means to work in male entertainment. Just about every dancer in La Bare has dreams of bigger and better things, but the mention of how quickly time flies and the pure enjoyment these men get from dancing on-stage only serves to emphasize that, for some, it’s difficult to know when enough is enough.Continue Reading Issue #10
June 27, 2014
1 hr. 30 min.
Randy “Master Blaster” Ricks, Cesar, Channing, Nick the DJ, JD, Axl Goode, Joe Manganiello, Nick Soto, Lance Winters