Magic Mike's Last Dance
Channing Tatum's stripper saga returns with spectacular dance scenes and winning chemistry, but a half-hearted thrust of a story.
February 08, 2023
Ted Lasso fans, rejoice — the Magic Mike franchise is taking its lead from the hit sitcom now. Swap soccer for stripping, obviously. From there, the sports-themed favourite and Magic Mike's Last Dance both transport their namesakes to London, then give them jobs under wealthy women managing publicly beloved assets after bitter marriage breakdowns, all as those ladies try to spite their exes while also finding themselves and sorting out their lives. In the third film in the Channing Tatum (Bullet Train)-starring series, there's a team to oversee featuring players from around the globe, too, plus a gruff butler doing his best not-AI Roy Kent impression. And, it all climaxes with a showcase event demanding dedicated training. That said, only this exceptionally choreographed but never earth-shattering flick fills its final quarter with wall-to-wall gyrating, including a male-revue number soundtracked by 1998 Dandy Warhols' single 'Boys Better' that has to be seen to be believed.
New Magic Mike movie splashing glistening chiselled abs across the screen, same Magic Mike, though. Tatum and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Kimi) — the prolific creative force who helmed, shot and spliced the first instalment; then just lensed and cut the second with his regular assistant Gregory Jacobs (Wind Chill) directing; and now returns to his trio of OG roles (still credited as Peter Andrews for his cinematography and Mary Ann Bernard for his editing) — have Mike Lane living his own Groundhog Day in a way. The more things change, the more that plenty stays the same for the saga's hero. This series started out not just putting its star's ripped physique and knack for erotic dancing to eye-catching use, but drawing upon his own story thanks to Tatum's past onstage Florida. He isn't currently getting by stripping while striving to follow his passion, of course. Before Magic Mike was scorching the screen, he'd already made it big. But these films, all three of which are penned by Reid Carolin (Dog), understand that Tatum's reality isn't the way that this tale usually goes.
In the franchise's first 2012 strip, Mike strutted in g-strings to make cash to design custom furniture, but little was turning out as planned. In 2015 sequel Magic Mike XXL, Mike and his fellow Kings of Tampa (Archenemy's Joe Manganiello, The Boys in the Band's Matt Bomer, John Wick's Kevin Nash and Criminal Minds' Adam Rodriguez) kept disrobing on the road to other fully attired goals, but the group and film wholeheartedly appreciated the joy and empowerment that the series' central line of work gifts women. This time, Mike's business went bust in the pandemic, so he's bartending in Miami. When ultra-rich socialite Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault, House of Gucci) tempts him back with a $6000 private sensual gig — because she needs a distraction from her messy separation — his prowess moving his hips and removing his clothing firmly remains a means to an end.
Pouring drinks at a waterside charity gala, crossing paths with a former client from the first flick and spending a night dazzling Max: that's how Mike winds up on a plane to the UK, once more just following the money. Soon he's staying in Max's home — where valet Vincent (Ayub Khan-Din, London Bridge) frowns and Max's teen daughter Zadie (Jemelia George) proves cynical — and also turning director. In her divorce proceedings from adulterous media mogul Roger Rattigan (Alan Cox, New Amsterdam), she's now the owner of a theatre that shares his surname, and she has a Mike-inspired itch she wants scratched. Ditching the stuffy period drama that's been treading the boards there for years, she tasks him with spreading his talents by putting together an upmarket performance. Not that Magic Mike Live needs it, but Magic Mike's Last Dance doubles as an ad for the IRL tour, while having Tatum and company work towards staging exactly that kind of production.
To address the 'Pony' in the room, Ginuwine's track gets another spin, its slinky, sultry beats again capturing the mood throbbing through this steamy, sweaty, lusty and thrusting — and sex- and body-positive — saga. Magic Mike's Last Dance makes viewers wait for the tune the series is virtually synonymous with, a delay that doesn't matter at all to the movie itself yet also echoes the underlying approach. Unlike round one, this isn't primarily a playful drama about the struggle to pursue the American dream. Unlike this stripper-verse's second swing, it isn't a joyous comedy, either. Teasing out what it knows the audience wants, it's primarily a will-they-won't-they romance and a backstage musical instead — a move that, although packaged with Tatum's smooth moves alongside his mostly personality-free fellow dancers, and given its pulse through Tatum and Hayek Pinault's chemistry, comes oiled with by-the-numbers melodrama.
Viewers might remember that Magic Mike XXL was touted as a last ride, too; this second final hurrah isn't as focused or as thrilling a swan song. There's a clunkiness and awkwardness to Magic Mike's Last Dance that begins with the film's narration, which waxes lyrical about the seductive and connective power of dance, yet also feels distancing as it waves about an unnecessary fairy-tale vibe. Compared to its predecessors, this supposed farewell is tamer and politer in tone even at its raciest. It yearns for more titillation, and more flesh to back up Max's certainty that the world needs and women want Mike's skills — and it longs for more of Manganiello, Bomer, Nash, Rodriguez and their male camaraderie. Midway through, Magic Mike's Last Dance temporarily twists into Ocean's- and Logan Lucky-style caper, adding pointless padding. And while championing female pleasure, desire and erotic fantasies still thrums through the movie, it's with a light buzz rather than anything deeply penetrating.
Still, at their weightiest (part one) and most entertaining (part two, also the horniest), the Magic Mike movies have never been flawless — and Magic Mike's Last Dance has other charms. Whenever dancing bumps and grinds across the screen, presses up against windows, dangles from beams or slides through onstage puddles (giving 2023 its second Singin' in the Rain nod in as many months), the film is ecstatic, as well as varied in its types and forms of fleet footwork. Whenever the committed Tatum and Hayek Pinault share the frame, flirting, bantering and getting acrobatic in that helluva opening tango, intimacy and radiance pierces through Soderbergh's uncharacteristically dark lensing. Indeed, when there's genuine heat to Magic Mike's Last Dance, it sizzles from that choreography and that core duo. Everything else too often feels like foreplay at its most routine and half-hearted.
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