The reverberations of “Magic Mike” are still being felt. Steven Soderbergh’s surprise 2012 hit about male strippers spawned a sequel, which is slated for release next year, but it also led to a lower-profile project. One of the movie’s stars was so intrigued by his role, he decided to go in search of the real thing. Joe Manganiello’s directorial debut, “La Bare,” is a documentary about a Dallas club of the same name. And in a jovial, if superficial way, he offers some perspective on the men behind the banana hammocks.
It turns out guys get into stripping for a variety of reasons but stay in the business for two: money and women. Once they realize they can make $283 in six minutes, as one claims he did during an amateur night, it gets hard to leave. Case in point: Randy “Master Blaster,” who stumbled into his job and is still going strong 34 years later, having also modeled for Playgirl on occasion. He doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs; he takes his job seriously, because how else can you remain, in his own estimation, “205 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal”?
Not everyone is in it for the long haul, however. One of Randy’s co-workers has dreams of opening a restaurant, and in the meantime the money at La Bare is good and he can practically do his cop routine in his sleep. (The stop-and-frisk campaign inside La Bare is wholeheartedly embraced.) Other men open up about their vulnerabilities: Cesar, in a past life, parachuted into Afghanistan and Iraq as an Army Ranger but can’t tame his stage fright.
The way “La Bare” unfolds is nothing new. It’s a parade of interviews intercut with the gyrations, defined abs, acrobatics and dollar-bill-throwing ladies of a typical night on the job. There isn’t any major drama, although the guys do get emotional when reminiscing about a friend and colleague who was slain outside the club.
But more often than not, things are light. We see the guys out partying and joking backstage and listen to their narration during a tryout in which one amateur strips down to show off a somewhat amorphous midsection and proceeds to cartwheel through the entire routine.
Manganiello doesn’t dig too deep. He focuses on an array of employees, from the stage manager to the DJ to the bartender, never giving an especially memorable sense of any of them. The most well-drawn portrait is of Randy, whose 78-year-old mother is also his nutritionist and his biggest fan. But even he comes across mainly as a mountain of muscle with an abundance of catchy phrases at the ready.
There is crudeness galore — one guy boasts about all the Playboy models he’s slept with — and plenty of suggestive dancing, but none of that cancels out the overall good-natured feel of the documentary.
Manganiello clearly has respect for these guys and what they do. And we’ll see how it all informs his performance as Big Dick Richie in the forthcoming “Magic Mike XXL.”
★ ★ ½ R. At Angelika Pop-Up. Contains sexual content, explicit language and brief graphic nudity.