We should at least give them a name, don’t you think? The Pecs Pack? The Barechested Bunch? The ABS-olutes? How else are we to speak of those so-frequently shirtless actors that have brought muscles to the multiplexes? It takes too long to list them all by name: Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans, Ryan Gosling, Taylor Lautner, and, of course, the one who more or less started it all, Matthew McConaughey.
Their muscles star in movies now. Oh, there’s some acting in there too – but judging by the trailers and TV promos it is their torsos that everyone actually goes to see. Granted, beefcake as box office draw is nothing new. Rudolph Valentino built his career and cult following off of his matinee good looks and chiseled body. Later, Burt Reynolds only arrived at his cinema superstardom after he appeared mostly bare for a Cosmopolitan centerfold. Certainly, some of the appeal of Stallone and Schwarzenegger (and other mesomorphs of the ‘80s) wasn’t based on their acting.
Of course the female form has been box office manna for decades now. How else do we fully explain Jane Russell and Jayne Mansfield? Bo Derek built her career (what there was of it) off of a soggy T-shirt. But outside of porn, such T&A display is largely out of fashion – not a way to really sell a movie these days. (Though Brooklyn Decker did her best in the promos for last year’s Just Go With It.) Into this void have stepped the boys. Marketing-wise, it’s a good move, appealing to the post-Sex and the City female audience while also catering to gay viewers. Such thinking is what also brought a lot of bimbo hosts to every other cable TV show currently on the air and why every carpenter on TV looks like he just stepped out of Men’s Fitness magazine.
All of this is not to say that any of these actors lack talent. (Though recently, Salon.com did ascribe the “bland, boring” Ryan Reynold’s ascent to stardom strictly to his physique.) Rather, it’s a realization of what we are celebrating and selling. Would up-and-coming young actors be wise to put down their scripts and pick up a dumbbell? If DeNiro and Pacino were younger, would they snub the Actors Studio for Gold’s?
And just how long do the ABS-olutes plan to strip to the waist in the name of stardom? If Mark(y) Wahlberg has left his tighty-whities in the past and become legit, then, in contrast, Ryan Gosling seems more than happy to pick up the protein shake and wax his way to greater name recognition.
Still, there’s no reason that these men can’t age gracefully and keep shedding their shirts well into middle-age. Unless, of course, they have dreams of being something more than this generation’s Burt Reynolds.