What three words best describe Magic Mike?
"Funny, sexy, cool," says Joe Manganiello, who co-stars in the new movie from director Steven Soderbergh.
Well, that's a start. But there's a lot more going on in this R-rated movie, which opens Friday and blends drama and humor with some eye- popping scenes of male strippers.
Not since 1980's American Gigolo, which starred a young Richard Gere as an expensive male escort, has a movie about beefcake been so exuberant yet ambitious.
Moviegoers are intrigued.
"Some of my friends on social media are nearly panting about it," Anne Brodie, a film writer/critic for Metro News Canada, says with a laugh. She has noticed a level of enthusiasm that makes Magic Mike seem like one of the event films of the summer.
"I'm just glad to see a bunch of guys who aren't making an action movie," Brodie says. "It's about time they try to please us."
Is something happening here besides the fact that multiplexes soon could seem a little more like bachelorette parties? And is there a connection to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon that has been steaming up the book best-seller lists?
"I see it as on the same continuum," says Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of the Women and Hollywood blog at Indiewire.com. "There's something going on here."
Marketing male celebrities as eye candy has been trending for a while in TV, advertising and music, including the Super Bowl ad with a skin-baring David Beckham and the crowded abs-fab roster of current singers.
Magic Mike reflects that trend, but it steps up the game. Well-known actors bare almost all and approach the bump-and-grind style of the dance numbers with gusto. But the movie also explores the main character as a person with dreams of a different life and takes a fresh approach to some gender stereotypes.
This is Hollywood reinventing a familiar genre and story line in a way that could make people stop and think.
In the movie, Channing Tatum plays Mike, an entrepreneur and talented furniture designer who earns cash for his serious ambitions by performing with an all-male revue. Matthew McConaughey portrays the club's owner. Newcomer Alex Pettyfer is a 19-year-old novice who learns the rules of the job from Tatum.
Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez also portray dancers. Cody Horn plays Pettyfer's sister, a medical assistant who is intrigued by Mike but leery of his lifestyle.
The movie — inspired by Tatum's own experiences as a dancer — has had a big publicity push from trailers that include McConaughey warning a crowd of screaming women that it's against the law to touch the dancers, then adding, "I think I see a lot of lawbreakers up in this house."
That's a smart way to balance the film's steamier aspects and grab attention in an online-driven marketplace of endless entertainment choices. "Fun's the name of the game. Fun can save the box office," Brodie says.
Recently, Manganiello stirred a minor frenzy when he appeared onstage at the MTV Movie Awards wearing a fireman costume from the movie. Talking by phone, he says Magic Mike should appeal to a wide audience that includes women, gay men and even straight men, who he's convinced will find the comic elements hysterical.
Manganiello already senses the potential. "I'm going to go ahead and say that I think just about every single woman on the planet that I've run into since we finished shooting in October is going to see this movie," he says. "I think we've tapped into something. And as crazy, weird and odd and nonsensical as it seems, I think we're on to something with that fireman suit."
But there's also a socio cultural side to Magic Mike that could give academics an excuse for repeat viewings. The cinema has always created male and female sex symbols, but the equation remains unequal.
A University of Southern California study of the 100 biggest box-office movies from 2008 showed that female characters had fewer speaking roles and were more likely to wear sexy clothing than male characters. The same was true for appearing partially nude — the numbers there were 24 percent for female characters versus 8 percent for male characters.
Compare that to 2011 statistics from the Motion Picture Association of America that showing the gender composition of moviegoers in the United States and Canada is consistent with the overall population: 51 percent women, 49 percent men.
The usual explanation for gender inequalities is that male-dominated Hollywood is most comfortable with treating women as eye candy, despite female box-office clout.
But in Magic Mike, some of the old dramatic stereotypes are turned upside-down. Here, it's the guy whose work as a designer is being undervalued and who has to convince women he has more to offer than his looks.
"It's just such an interesting dynamic to see the same words coming from a man," Silverstein says of the movie's trailer. "That's why I think Steven Soderbergh is so interesting, because he likes to mess with gender stereotypes, which he clearly is doing here."