With 'Magic Mike,' Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh sell sex to women

(Image Credit: Warner Brothers)
(Image Credit: Warner Brothers)

"Tell your boyfriend you're going to book club," say "Magic Mike's" sparkly, exuberant trailers.

Banking on the relatively ambitious concept that Hollywood can sell sex to women as well as men, Warner Brothers, the studio behind this weekend's "Magic Mike," is hoping that women will turn out in droves to experience one of the few films to try to translate beefcake into bucks.


Loosely based on Channing Tatum's days as an 18-year-old stripper in Florida (he co-produced the film), Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" tells the story of a cohort of male strippers from Tampa who spend their nights taking off their clothes for screaming women at club Xquisite.

Tatum plays Mike, a construction worker by day and stripper by night. Alex Pettyfer's character, Adam, channels Tatum's younger self as a 19-year-old stripping novice lured to the profession with promises of money and women.

"Magic Mike" is an unusual film for Hollywood executives because it contradicts prevailing wisdom about the kinds of images that summer moviegoers want to see on screen.

Though women make up a slightly larger proportion of film audiences, a 2008 University of Southern California study reported that in 100 of the highest-grossing movies from that year, women had fewer speaking roles. Female characters appeared partially nude 24 percent of the time, compared with 8 percent of male characters.

With the notable exceptions of "American Gigolo" and "Boogie Nights," both films about men in the sex industry, you don't often see well-known male actors willing to strip naked for purposes other than slapstick comedy (see: "The Full Monty").

In "Magic Mike," however, Warner Bros. is counting on the fact that America's women are ready and willing to watch a film marketed, not to their affinity for sappy romance, but to their eagerness to watch Tatum and co. gyrate in costume to "It's Raining Men."

Writing for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis notes that the film is the "reverse of the old cinematic divide between the sexes that finds so-called passive women who are looked at by so-called active men."

"In one school of thought Hollywood movies are always organized for the visual pleasure of the male spectator, which pretty much leaves the female spectator sidelined. There’s no leaving her out any longer--or the gay or confident heterosexual male spectator, either," she says.

With the help of winky social media buzz and impromptu talk show dance numbers, it's clear that the film's marketers want "Magic Mike" to be a so-called "event film," driven by word-of-mouth and group viewing.

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Or because it's "just F for fun," as Soderbergh himself has called it.

In a well-received performance as an older, sleazy stripper, "Magic Mike's" Matthew McConaughey warns his female audience, "I think I see a lot of lawbreakers up in this house."

We have yet to see how many randy "lawbreakers" turn up this weekend, but thanks to the success of steamy bestseller "Fifty Shades of Grey" and other female-driven box office successes, studio executives are getting more comfortable with the idea of women as a lucrative customer base.

Joe Manganiello seems pretty confident.

"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 told the Detroit Free Press.

"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."

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