Despite some great dance sequences and charismatic performances from Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek, the conclusion to the trilogy is more “Meh” than “Magic”.
In the climactic monologue of the original Magic Mike, Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) says, “I don’t want to be a forty-year-old stripper.” It’s an affecting scene that shows that Mike understands the dead-end nature of his current lifestyle and his desire to escape, and it makes the ending where he gives stripping up a satisfying one.
So, of course, 11 years later, Mike is a forty-year-old stripper.
It’s inevitable, of course. Unfortunately, the tragedy of the Magic Mike franchise is that Mike can never escape the industry. What it can do, however, is turn the stripping lifestyle from an empty, unfulfilling existence into a glamorous one. And in Magic Mike’s Last Dance, director Steven Soderbergh (who directed the first installment) and writer Carolin Reid (who wrote all the scripts in the franchise) have turned the franchise into a strip show of sorts. Any reality the series may have had has been replaced with a flashy Hollywood fantasy. The result is a piece of escapist fluff that offers moments of enjoyment but doesn’t truly satisfy.
To be fair, Mike doesn’t start the film as a stripper. Instead, he’s making ends meet as a bartender after his furniture business went belly-up during the pandemic. Still, while down on his luck, Mike isn’t willing to return to old habits. That is until he meets actress-turned-businesswoman Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), who manages to convince him to dance for her.
Maxandra is so impressed by his dancing (and sexual prowess) that she convinces him to fly with her to London, where she has a job waiting. Maxandra is a recent divorcee of a media mogul. One of her assets is a theater called The Rattigan, which hosts a popular (if dated) show called Isabel Ascendant. Partially because she wants to get back at her ex-husband, and partially because she believes in Mike, Maxandra intends to turn the show into an erotic ode to female empowerment, with Mike serving as the creative director.
What follows is a weird mix of “let’s put on a show” and “slobs v.s snobs” narrative, as working-class Mike must navigate the stuffy world of upper-class London to get his show produced. However, this tension doesn’t go anywhere. Characters and plot points arise and drop, seemingly without reason other than to present conflict. This loose plot is held together by a narration by Maxandra’s daughter Zadie (Jemelia George). However, even the narration doesn’t relate much to the happenings on-screen. Rather, they are moments of Zadie opining on the importance of dance.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is what people who haven’t watched Magic Mike think Magic Mike is.
And dancing is the focus of Last Dance, not stripping. Granted, it’s erotic dancing, but the southern sleaze of the first two films’ bumping and grinding exits stage left in favor of “So You Think You Can Dance” style popping and locking (albeit shirtless). It’s impressive and looks great on the big screen. Unfortunately, it has a slickness that feels tame compared to the series’ prior installments.
That said, Tatum’s opening and closing dance sequences are worth the price of admission. It’s easy to see why Maxandra wants Mike to choreograph her show. Their first dance is basically clothed sex, with Mike straddling and grinding while hoisting her on top of various well-crafted pieces of furniture. Similarly, the final sequence has Tatum dancing with a ballerina in a simulated rainstorm, contorting their bodies as they slide across the water slick floor. Both set pieces are well-shot, giving Tatum’s talents a worthy showcase. Giving more time to such athletic displays would’ve improved the overall experience of Last Dance considerably.
Still, while the non-dancing scenes aren’t as captivating, they are tolerable due to the charm of the leads. Tatum falls effortlessly back into the role of Mike, managing to slide from gruff and no-nonsense to mouth-meltingly charming. Likewise, Hayek plays to type, with Maxandra being a woman who is both sensual and sassy. It’s nothing we wouldn’t expect from her, but she plays it so well that I don’t mind.
The rest of the cast isn’t quite as engaging. Though, to be fair, this is less to do with the actors and more to do with Soderbergh and Carolin seemingly not knowing what to do with them. Zadie gets the worst of this failure. She starts as an indignant know-it-all teenager before switching to a caring daughter who loves Mike with little explanation. Similarly, Maxandra’s butler Victor (Ayub Khan Din) is a seemingly important character (he has the most screen time outside of Tatum and Hayek) without real motivations or agency other than giving everyone a knowing glance.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is what people who haven’t watched Magic Mike think Magic Mike is. The first film was a primarily realistic character study. While XXL is escapist, its exploration of male friendship gave it depth. In contrast, Last Dance is all style and no substance. Had the runtime been taken up mostly with dance numbers, this wouldn’t be a problem. Instead, we get a half-baked plot high on melodrama and low on anything else. While dancing may be enough to please some fans, the Magic Mike Live stage show in Vegas would serve them better.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance‘s saddle’s waiting. Come and jump on it in theatres February 10.