Having learned to shake his money maker as “Big Dick Richie” in “Magic Mike,” Joe Manganiello returns the favor by making his directorial debut with “La Bare,” a documentary about the titular Texas male strip club that inspired Steven Soderbergh’s fictional feature. Pic doesn’t offer any real revelations or much overall substance, but the personalities and more immediate physical qualities of the joint’s headlining 25 Adonises both onstage and offstage make for a colorful diversion. It seems most apt for quality cable sales.
Though the club’s history in various locations dates back to the 1970s, the current La Bare Dallas is considered by many the premiere venue of its kind in the world — or at least since a post-9/11 slump in biz spurred the arrival of Russian emigre co-owner Alex, who imposed much higher performance standards, including use of Vegas choreographers. The talent on display is high-end (ahem), as management can afford to be choosy with so many guys eager to take jobs that can pay $100,000 a year or so. It’s demanding work, though, with fitness regimes akin to those of world-class athletes (and no off-season). Where female dancers generally have to do little more than strut, get naked and socialize, these men are expected to perform often elaborate group and/or solo routines, ranging from the acrobatic to the role-play-centered, while towing a line between titillation, flattery, friendliness and tip scrounging with individual clients.
The two least sharp knives in the He-Man drawer here still seem to be in it as much for the readily available women as for the cash, carnal knowledge of customers apparently not being against the rules. (There’s no indication here that any of La Bare’s dancers are gay, a surprise given some prior docus about male stripdom.) But others have moved past the profession’s partying potential to focus their after-hours on family life, while at least two men here — one ex-military, the other raised in extreme evangelical conservatism — admit their public exhibitionism is wholly at odds with their private lives and personalities.
Spotlit characters include Randy Ricks, aka “Master Blaster,” a former competitive bodybuilder who’s been doing this since 1979, with a 78-year-old mother who maintains his pushing-60 body-of-death as his personal nutritionist; and Ruben “Angelo” Riguero, to whom the film is dedicated, a charismatic Venezuelan whom several call the best such performer they’ve ever seen. Riguero was shot dead in a senseless altercation outside a club, and the perp (who had a long police record but is also suspected of being an informer) was set free after all charges against him were rather mysteriously dropped.
There’s also an overlong comic look at Amateur Night, when men basically try out for La Bare’s lineup. (Two actually make it, though most are predictably laughed at here for their haplessness.) In addition, we follow a couple of performers to an off-site gig, this one apparently a bachelorette party or some such.
There’s no great depth to the insights here, and the pic seems a tad repetitious and padded at times. But the lively package is well-turned in all departments, maintaining interest with the basic stimulus of eye-candy under bright-colored club lights, scored to pounding dance music.