Wed, Jun 24, 2015
By Thom Nickels
When two Philly film society friends offered me and a friend two free tickets to see Magic Mike XXL at The Prince Theater at 1412 Chestnut Street, I had to ask, "What is Magic Mike?" Could Magic Mike be the story of a gay magician who pulls off Marriage Equality in Russia, or could it be a movie about a magical millennial named Mike who changes craft beer into tattoos?
The Prince Theater, of course, was almost lost to the city when it went bankrupt several years ago. The theater’s legacy brightened when it was sold to The Philadelphia Film Society. I’ve visited The Prince many times in years past when I would attend film festivals.
In the lobby we picked up our free tickets then proceeded towards a lineup of ushers and serious looking men in suits. What was this? The men in suits were arranged widthwise across the floor like a chorus line of border guards, only they didn’t look very happy. As a frequent Ritz Theater movie patron, I’ve certainly never seen a lineup of suited security there, or at The Roxy or anywhere else for that matter.
Here’s what happened next: I was asked to stand still with my arms out at which point one of the unusually tall men had me spread my legs so that he and another man, who was also over six feet tall, could pat them while yet another man ran one of those little counter-terrorism brush gizmos over my crotch and pocket area.
Were they checking for weapons, bombs, or tubes of nitroglycerin, or did they think that some members of the audience had something against Magic Mike XXL? I suppose what spooked me the most was the fact that these suited no-nonsense men went about their job with the cold, unfeeling precision of TSA agents.
Since when did The Prince Theater become an airport?
As I’m wont to do in such situations, I said something vaguely humorous like, "Is this movie really a non-stop flight to the Middle East?" But nobody was laughing. The suits had no sense of humor and even seemed to resent the collective enthusiasm among patrons in the lobby that often precedes Showtime. Even the stoic looking Asian woman who collected my ticket after the suits had their way with me and who I recognized from past film festivals, had a glum, worried look on her face.
Inside the theater, I noticed additional lines of security near many of the aisles. At the entrance to our aisle a security guy who looked to be seven feet tall had his eyes glued in our direction. Here and there I noticed more relaxed looking guards, most of them women with long, curly hair. While some of these women didn’t seem to be taking their job as seriously as the men, they were still eerily "Watchtower" watchful.
When my friend decided that he should go to the men’s room before the start of the film, one of the security guys told him that nobody was allowed to use the rest rooms "at this time."
Now, I’ve been going to the movies for some forty-five years but I’ve never been told that the urinals are off limits.
"It’s not like Hilary Clinton is in the lobby," I said to my friend, "This is just a movie, after all!"
Finally, the lights went down and movie goers heard a faux theatrical explosion as ten male strippers appeared on stage while a few others popped up in the audience area. They were vastly overbuilt muscle thug types with huge arms and torsos but skinny legs. They proceeded to rip off their T-shirts and throw them into the audience as the screaming women collectively raised their cell phones to take pictures. The strippers then proceeded to gyrate, somersault, twist, twirl and dance, as one or two even leapt out into the audience and crawled over the seats. One guy in a bikini bottom or codpiece crawled past me in a paroxysm of ecstasy. I had to duck to avoid a body slam.
Then, as suddenly as it all began, the strippers disappeared and the movie began. It was Magic Mike time, meaning the story of "a male stripper teaching a younger performer how to party, pick up women, and make easy money."
Like the on-stage strippers, the movie strippers had overbuilt disproportionate bodies and talked as if they had bubble gum stuck in their mouths. Magic Mike, the star, even wore a backwards baseball cap as if it was 1995. These beefy guys had all left their jobs and private lives to take time off to be with their stripper buddies for one last road trip before their bodies fell apart or turned to fat from weightlifting.
In the story they travel around in an old food delivery truck straight out of Philly’s Vendy Awards, and camp in out of the way places. On a beach they macho it up by passing a football around but then suddenly they find themselves in Mad Mary’s, a drag queen hangout where, inexplicably, the toughest of them consents to dressing up like Carmen Miranda during the group striptease.
Throughout the film I looked for a correlation between police or suited security men and the action on-screen. Despite the fact that the men have wild escapades and even get into an auto accident on a country road, not one cop surfaces. These guys do what they want, crashing southern society parties and building bonfires in open fields, but the face of authority-- totalitarian authority-- is strangely absent.
The on screen absurdities get even zanier, especially when it came to scenes of the female audiences at the striptease shows. The women are presented as "ordinary" women you might see at CVS or Applebee’s although many are overweight and quick to giggle, blush and scream when the overbuilt male torsos strut their stuff. One might describe these ladies as readers of romance novels on methamphetamine.
The erotic mayhem on screen had the effect of loosening up the Prince’s security system because my friend was finally allowed to go to the bathroom. Yet as soon as he returned I noticed a security usher (a suit?) aiming a bright flashlight over a certain segment of the audience. Was something amiss? Did they find that nitroglycerin?
Most likely the suit (or usher) was investigating a potential cell phone violator who was attempting to film the Warner Brothers production from an iPhone. In any event, it proved to be a false alarm, especially since this crowd was really well behaved. Large groups of young women in business attire carrying expensive iPhones and on a major giggle tare don’t need an Israeli-Palestinian style clamp down.
As one who has seen hundreds of plays in the city, I’m used to requests to audiences to "please turn off all cell phones and gadgets before the show begins." Usually these requests are made politely and/or humorously, but when the announcement was made at The Prince it had emotional echoes of The Red Guard in old Russia.
So what, dear readers, has happened to the venerable Prince? Has it turned into a frog? Or has the theater, unbeknownst to us, merged with Philadelphia International Airport?
When this overlong, unedited movie was finally finished, guests had to make their way through another ring of security, only this time the suits seemed more relaxed, no doubt happy that the despicable, terror-prone crowd was finally going home.