Bodies glisten with sweat. They writhe together. You feel dirty looking, yet you can't look away. Nobody looks comfortable, but they're not not enjoying it—it's the giddy sensation that comes from being simultaneously repulsed and attracted, and the cumulative effect makes you feel distinctly unclean.
This is the line of people waiting to get into the advance screening of Magic Mike XXL on a hot Wednesday evening at the AMC in Mission Valley. I walk the length of the line, looking for Glenn Heath Jr., CityBeat's film reviewer, but only see women. I can't remember the last time I've seen so many women together in one place. Most look to be in their 40s. They watch me with barely-veiled disdain; this is their night, and I am intruding.
Cougars, I think, but the word sounds threatening in my mind. Better keep a distance.
I remember Glenn's email, the one innocuously titled "Magic Mike XXL," which prompted this foray.
"You can accompany me to the press-screening," it read. "[d]o your column about the experience. Let's make it happen."
I stared at the email, not really knowing how to react. Magic Mike? The male stripper movie? Uhhh... Before I could even reply, another email from Glenn showed up:
"There will be so many screaming cougars there you'll think you're in the jungle, or high mountain range, or wherever cougars hang out in real life."
I scan the line again. Here there be cougars.
No sign of Glenn, so I retreat to the end of the line. Another man stands behind me and asks, "Is this the line for the uh... radio promotion?" He doesn't want to say "Magic Mike."
"I think so?" I say it like a question. We both neither want to deny or affirm that we're standing in line to see a movie about male strippers, so as far as we're concerned, we're just two cool dudes standing in a line for some unnamed, generic radio promotion, no big deal. NBD. I see Glenn walking toward the theater entrance and say "Oh there's my—" and trail off because I almost say "date."
I catch up to Glenn, who's trying to take an inconspicuous picture of the line. He sends the image to his girlfriend, and captions it with lyrics from Kool and the Gang's "Ladies Night." It's endearing because their relationship is fairly new and Glenn has the carefree, confident glow of someone smitten. He's essentially cougar-proof.
I'm excited that Glenn invited me because, well, I'm a fan of his stuff. For my money, his film writing is the best in the game. He calls out bullshit (his unabashed hatred of the movie Whiplash is one of my favorite things), and he awards ambition. When he talks, he has the animated voice of a radio DJ, which makes his sophisticated analyses of films understandable to even a dumb-dumb like me. I don't know if it's the situation, his new girlfriend or the fact that he just really wants to see Magic Mike XXL, but he is stoked. His excitement is contagious.
We bypass the line and sit in the press seats for 30 minutes before the radio promotion winners are allowed in. There is a noted absence of air-conditioning in the theater. "It's like they're doing it on purpose," Glenn says. "Trying to make it steamy." And yes, after some time, it feels swampy. I don't know if this is a turn-on or turn-off, but I'm often confused in most sexy situations so I just squint my eyes and err on the side of sexy.
The radio promotion-winning cougars filter in. The theater lights dim, and remain low long before the movie begins. Mood-lighting, I think. Small "whoos" begin to punctuate the nervous laughter of the crowd. "Here come the giggles," Glenn says. A trailer for a found-footage horror movie appears on the screen and a woman screams "take it off!" So it begins.
The following is list of stray thoughts and observations I had while watching/experiencing Magic Mike XXL. Potential, greased-up spoilers ahead.
1. I have not seen the first Magic Mike, so when Glenn talks about the character "Big Dick Richie," from the first one, I have no idea who he's talking about. During the first few minutes, I refrain from leaning over and asking if each character is Big Dick Richie. I eventually discern who Big Dick Richie is.
2. Magic Mike XXL is a unlike anything I expected. For a piece of titillating cinema, it's actually weird as fuck. There are long stretches of dialogue, mostly improvised, between dance sequences. When the guys aren't dancing, there's an overbearing tone of sadness toward their failed careers. The characters seem unrehearsed and speak in cliché phrases without timing or tact, which, I consider, is actually the most realistic cinematic representation of being a dude.
3. The movie's essentially a road trip movie, which—in addition to the somber undertones—gives the movie an episodic, disjointed feel. Actions follow the logic of a dream/nightmare. Subtle surrealism bleeds through: A bikini-clad, motorcycle helmet-wearing woman whose face is never revealed; a conversation that takes place entirely in shadow; a soundtrack that never feels loud enough.
4. Every time a dancer rubs their jock in a woman's face, the women in the audience erupt in big whoos.
5. Moderate whoos for when a character pantomimes 69 on a very large woman.
6. There's so much whooing by the end that I can't tell if it's coming from the screen or the audience. It kind of screws up my equilibrium.
7. Channing Tatum. I get it now.
Ryan is the author of Horror Business. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford