La Bare, the male strip club that inspired Magic Mike, is the focus of Joe Manganiello’s breezy new documentary, which is fitting as Manganiello played “Big Dick Richie” in Steven Soderberg’s quirky 2010 spin on the biz. It’s also Manganiello’s first time behind the lens, and while the film is confidently shot and full of pomp and piss, it hardly gets underneath the well-oiled surface.
The legendary Dallas hotspot of the title has long roots reaching back into the ’70s. You can think of it as the Club 54 for ogling beefcakes—the gold standard of its time—and then, as the owner tells it, after 9/11, the business dried up and the establishment languished. Manganiello doesn’t dig so much into the extenuating circumstances or why the notorious American tragedy had such an impact—he’s more focused on the now and the wow and quickly jumps to happier times after an Eastern European emigre named Alex comes in and reboots the club by cleaning it up and bringing in a Las Vegas choreographer.
Many of the generically good-looking studs bear ripped abs, sweet boyish smiles and not much else. The one that intrigues most, Randy Ricks, a.k.a. “Master Blaster” on stage, has been in the game so long he’s stripped for four generations of women and the great grandmothers and great granddaughters pop up as talking heads to attest to his manly charms. Ricks presides over La Bare’s roost as the de facto papa figure and tries to keep the younger guys on track financially and fitness-wise. Ricks is amiable enough and boasts a big personality, but pales in comparison to Mathew McConaughey’s fictional portrayal, mostly due to the lack of journalistic depth and style by the nascent filmmaker.
The one gripping event that drives the core of the film is the death of Angelo Riguero, to whom the film is dedicated. Described as the Michael Jordan of male dancing (he could have multiple girlfriends in the club at the same time and they’d all get along), Riguero was shot during a late-night dispute outside the club. (The perp, who had a long rap sheet and was an alleged police informant, walked.) The whole incident pleads for its own documentary, but Manganiello merely serves up some news footage clips and is onto the next chapter.
The deepest, most entertaining part of the film comes during amateur night when guys off the street take center stage. Some of the lads clearly aren’t cut out for it, and others are chasing dreams of delusion. (A few more backstories might have deepened the cheeky interlude.) The one La Bare stable dancer who served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan seems to have an interesting story, too, as does the guy who’s slept with less than five girls, or the guy who grew up devoutly religious, but we get just fragments in cleanly shot studio sit-downs with tear aways to an occasional raucous club routine—throbbing music and grinding hips. There’s clearly more to the story than just that. Soderberg and his writer, Reid Carolin, got that, but Manganiello seems happy to be dancing in the dark. La Bare is an admirable newbie effort that’s unfortunately just skin deep.
Published in Paste Magazine, June 2014