Eight years after the last Magic Mike film, Magic Mike XXL, Steven Soderbergh has brought the titular stripper back for his “last dance”.
Written by Reid Carolin, writer of the two previous entries, Magic Mike’s Last Dance stars Channing Tatum reprising his role as Michael “Magic Mike” Lane and Salma Hayek Pinault as socialite Maxandra “Max” Mendoza, a divorcée who hires Mike to direct a raunchy new stage show at her ex-husband’s theatre in London.
A retired dancer and stripper whose furniture business folded under the COVID-19 pandemic; Mike Lane works as a bartender for a Miami-based catering company. Now in his forties, Mike is struggling financially but determined not to go back to his old life.
During a fundraiser for Max’s charity organisation, Mike is recognised by a guest who recommends his services to the host. Once the party ends, Max privately offers Mike $6000 for a private dance, which he reluctantly accepts. As their chemistry builds during Mike’s dance, the pair give in to passion and sleep together. The following morning Max offers Mike an even bigger deal – $60,000 to fly to London and stay for one month to choreograph a stage show.
As auditions and rehearsals begin, and Max and Mike do this little foxtrot around their growing feelings for each other, they must also contend with Max’s cynical and pragmatic teenage daughter Zadie, pushback from Max’s ex-husband, and Greater London’s government regulating their production until finally they’ve produced a “groundbreaking” and house-shaking performance the theatre guests go wild for.
So, here’s the thing: as a silly, lighthearted 2-ish hour movie, Magic Mike’s Last Dance is fine. I’ll be the first person to proclaim that not every film has to be an auteur’s wet dream, and Last Dance is entertaining enough. However, Soderbergh’s first run at this story in 2012 was a surprisingly solid film with a deeply critical story sitting underneath all the sweaty bump n’ grind.
Last Dance sadly feels devoid of all the stuff that made the first film so decent. Instead relying on what Soderbergh assumes is the female gaze; washboard abs up the wazoo and some extremely slutty dry humping. And it probably is true for many women, but sadly not this one. So rather than feeling hot under the collar, all I felt was a bit bored and uncomfortable.
After opening with such a raunchy number, the film really starts to lose pace as it spends most of its time trying to convince the audience that Max and Mike are a good couple. There’s a few comedy moments sprinkled in, like the show’s troupe doing a tight quarters routine on one of London’s signature double-decker buses to woo a government official into approving their renovation permits, but mostly the lead up to the final cabaret performance is pretty dull.
Unlike the previous two entries, Soderbergh doesn’t take any time to get to know Mike’s new batch of dancers; truly, only one of them is given a crumb of a backstory and none of them have names as memorable as Big Dick Richie. Speaking of Mike’s old crew, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez do appear in a brief cameo, but one must wonder if the film would have benefited from having them appear in person for at least one more scene for a nostalgia trip alone.
Additionally, the film is not helped by the narration presumably provided by Zadie. In general, it can safely be said that a movie like Magic Mike doesn’t need a narrative voice since the plot and character motivations are pretty cut-and-dry. So the decision to allow one for Last Dance is an unusual attempt at elevating the story and, frankly, irritating to listen to.
Criticisms aside, the final show is a largely fun time, especially when the dancers perform together (and in suits), but the highlight is, of course, when Tatum takes the stage with ballerina Kylie Shea for a water-soaked contemporary number that is splice-cut with previous scenes of Max and Mike in a last-ditch attempt at making their love story believable. It works, for the most part. The slip-n-slide routine is a nice break from the more aggressive stripping and dry humping; Tatum and Shea’s performance in this moment is actually very beautiful, sad, and sultry. Something unexpected and entirely welcome.