If you can wrap your mind around the concept of a movie in which three women strive to bring integrity to the massage business despite interference from mobsters, then, congratulations, you’re the target audience for The Manhandlers. While not nearly as sleazy as its premise might suggest, this lighthearted drama has an unavoidably leering quality, since the comely protagonists stroke men’s bodies for a living. The notion that they draw the line as to which areas they’re willing to stroke is what kicks the threadbare plot into gear. Katie (Cara Burgess) inherits a massage parlor after gangsters kill her uncle, the previous owner. Katie is shocked to discover that the ladies working at the parlor use massage sessions as come-ons for—well, let’s just stick with retail terminology and call it “upselling.” After dismissing the working girls, Katie recruits two friends, an actress bored with doing commercials for products including “Madonna Vaginal Spray” and a secretary tired of dodging her handsy boss, then re-opens the massage parlor without the prostitution component. This aggravates local gangsters, who demand a slice of her profits, but Katie somehow becomes romantically involved with a young mobster and—oh, never mind. The Manhandlers is relatively inoffensive, insomuch as it could have been cruder, but the movie is painfully dull and predictable; although some of the performances are acceptable, nothing much happens. The producers deserve some measure of respect for resisting the temptation to stock The Manhandlers with gratuitous nudity and salacious happy-ending scenes, but they didn’t replace the missing sensationalism with anything of commensurate interest. And if there’s a quasi-feminist statement here, something about women taking control of their destinies, it’s obscured by the titillating nature of the premise.
The Manhandlers: LAME