Review: The Least Impressive of the Franchise, Magic Mike’s Last Dance Glimpses Moments of Strip-Tease Greatness
Whereas the original Magic Mike wasn’t afraid to explore the seedier side of male stripping and Magic Mike XXL leaned more into the joy of dancing and how power could be derived from dance, the latest film in the franchise, Magic Mike’s Last Dance, looks at the commercialization and legitimizing of stripping by turning it into a stage show with actual production value. Even with the first film’s original director, Steven Soderbergh, back on board, the results are mixed, especially with the franchise’s greatest asset, star Channing Tatum, mostly sidelined as a dancer as he’s put in charge of running this show in a classic London theater.
When we meet Mike Lane this time, he’s bartending in Florida. He’s around 40, so he figures his dancing days are behind him, and his attempt at launching a hand-crafted furniture business went bust during the pandemic. At a party he’s working, he meets wealthy socialite Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), who has discovered what he used to do and agrees to pay him a great deal of money if he gives her a lap dance (she mistakingly assumes he’s also a male prostitute, but he forgives her and sleeps with her anyway). The scene is tremendous not just because of the dance itself, but also in the way that Mike scouts out the room they’re in as he talks to her: he’s moving furniture, testing out the strength of the book shelves, seeing if various pipes in the room can hold his weight—he’s surveying for a very elaborate private event, and it’s hilarious.
Tatum’s secret weapon has always been his sense of humor, especially at his own expense. His gifts as a dancer are made all the more powerful by being funny and charming. No one will ever be able to dismiss him as a piece of meat because he will never play that role for anyone. Perhaps the real Magic is within.
Max is so taken with Mike that she invites him to go to London with her. She’s in process of divorcing her rich husband (marrying rich men is her magic trick), and one of the things she gets custody of is a West End theater property, which specializes in classic British works. Max wants her new protege to adapt the current play into a male strip show, and the idea sounds crazy until they start batting around ideas with the play’s female lead (Caitlin Gerard), who recasts herself as the emcee of the production.
Written by Reid Carolin, Magic Mike’s Last Dance clumsily transitions into a backstage drama about coming up with a revised storyline, casting a new type of dancer (lots of street performers who have to be taught to strip), and putting together a professional, Vegas-style show. Working as his own cinematographer and editor (under his usual pseudonyms, Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard), Soderbergh is clearly enjoying putting Mike through the paces of a world he’s unfamiliar with, complete with all of the backstage politics and uniquely British paperwork needed for any show. It doesn’t make things easier when he realizes that Max may have put him in charge, but if she has an idea, there’s no room for discussion. Max also has a teenage daughter, Zadie (the entertaining Jemelia George), who is stuck in the middle of both her parents’ divorce and any show-related squabbles Mike and her mother have.
It isn’t until the final 30 minutes or so where things really begin to come to the kind of life we expect from a Magic Mike outing. There are riffs on familiar routines from the previous films, there are other numbers that include the audience, but the real showstopper is a surprise appearance by Mike and a ballerina (Kylie Shea), who perform a number in an on-stage rainstorm on black plastic tarps, allowing them to slide great distances across the stage. Honestly, it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in a musical/dance movie in years, and it’s almost worth the price of admission to see it on a big screen, reminding us how vital Tatum’s choreography work was to the first two films and how much it’s missed from this one.
The film feels shallow, lesser than, than its predecessors, and as much as I enjoy what Hayek Pinault is doing here as a vapid, fickle sugar mama, the chemistry between Max and Mike is as distracting as it is fun (she decides to stop sleeping with him once they become business partners, but they slip up sometimes). But when Last Dance works, it does so spectacularly, if inconsistently. It’s easily the lesser of the three films, but I find it difficult not to care immensely about what Tatum is up to, especially when it involves dancing. Take that for what it’s worth.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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