Directed by Steven Soderbergh | Written by Reid Carolin | 112 min | ▲▲▲▲△
Whenever I talk about the Magic Mike movies in mixed company I feel like I spend half the time trying to convince dudes that they’re worth seeing, that the world’s most famous male-stripper movie series has more going for it than just gyrating glutes and arm butter — not that there’s anything wrong with those things. Some men are hard to convince. Let me say, once again, that these pictures are a treat. (I have a review of the second one from 2015 here.)
They are movies about the dynamics between men and women, female pleasure, male friendships, as well as that most attention-grabbing thing — graceful bodies in sexy motion.
This final tease, as some poster tag lines would have it, is a bit of a departure from the first two films in that it spends most of its time away from the United States and entirely out of the sweaty venues where Mike (Channing Tatum) and his muscular, rhythmic, flexible buds plied their trade, but it’s still a worthy finale for the franchise.
A narrator — who interestingly is revealed as we go along to be a teenaged girl — sets the scene: Mike Lane is working as a bartender in Miami again, his furniture business a casualty of the pandemic and his days as a dancer far in the past. He gets asked for a private dance from a wealthy lady, Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), which he agrees to — and it’s a scorcher. It changes Max’s life, and she offers Mike a deal: Join her in London for the opportunity of a lifetime, though she’s a little cagey about what that opportunity is.
It turns out Max is in the middle of a nasty divorce, but one of the assets she’s still got is a theatre in the West End, one that’s showing a stultified play called Isabelle Ascendant about a woman having to choose between love and money. Max wants to reimagine it as an ecstatic dance piece and serves up Mike to direct. (If this sounds like a fictionalized history of the Magic Mike Live show, now on tour, you’re not wrong.)
This while Mike moves into Max’s mansion with her butler and driver, Victor (Ayub Khan-Din), and clever teen daughter (and the narrator), Zadie (Jemelia George). Also on the scene is the husband, Roger (Alan Cox), who wants Max back.
What works especially well here are is the question of power. Every scene underlines that dynamic between Mike and Max — the question of who’s using whom looms large in their ostensibly commercial agreement. But also, more broadly with all the characters, the power shifts from moment to moment between men and women, the subtext becoming text again and again. This is an uncommonly well-written piece, just like the first two were — full marks to screenwriter Carolin for keeping the themes front and centre.
And then there’s the dancing. Max and Mike recruit a cadre of deadly movers, all of whom have something special. They’re great, though sadly we don’t really get to know them individually. Selfishly, I was hoping this Last Dance would be a chance for Mike to get the gang back together, but we only get cameos from those guys, including Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), and Ken (Matt Bomer), some of whom have chosen the toyboy path.
And as sharp, and also funny, as the film is it doesn’t entirely succeed as a crowd-pleaser. That’s because Tatum and Hayek Pinault don’t quite deliver the chemistry required to sell the romance between them. You get that they’re hot for each other but this isn’t the sizzling intensity of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight, nor do we get a scene from that 25-year-old classic like that couple had in the trunk of the car, or later, at the hotel bar. Soderbergh is in some ways the anti-Spielberg — he’s allergic to the kind of heartfelt sentiment Spielberg has in spades, almost to a fault, and requires more from his actors to deliver it. As sexy as Tatum and Hayek Pinault are, I never quite bought the love.
Still, Magic Mike’s Last Dance is still a pleasure — on multiple fronts.