The “Magic Mike” films may be best known for serving the bodily thrills of hunky male strippers in a blockbuster comedy package, but Mike Lane is so much more than just a stripper. The character, originated by Channing Tatum and inspired by his early experiences in Tampa, Florida, has always been more than the sum of his (very impressive) parts. The third and final film in the wildly successful franchise, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” sees Steven Soderbergh returning to direct and Tatum returning to his dance roots. When Tatum glides across a water-filled dance floor in nothing but knee pads in the movie’s pas de deux climax, it’s clear we’re not in Tampa anymore.
In fact, we’re in London. The movie opens with a British-accented voiceover about “the impulse to dance” and its “power over our species,” as Mike (Tatum) surveys his vast ocean territory. “Like many 40-year-old millennial white males,” she explains, Mike had been hit hard by the pandemic and a looming recession. He’s back to catering fancy events for wealthy women he once stripped for, where he impresses hostess Max (Salma Hayek Pinault), an impulsive woman determined to spend all of her ex-husband’s money.
On a tip from a friend who recognized him, Max asks Mike to dance for her. After a little convincing (and a lot of money), he’s checking the sturdiness of the etagere in Max’s impeccably designed beach house. Soderbergh and writer Reid Carolin waste no time delivering the goods; they know their audience. The chemistry sizzles in the most epic private dance ever, which begins sensually and builds to an acrobatic frenzy that’s both hilarious and sexy. The etagere really comes in handy as Mike drops pull-up style down onto a waiting Max, before sweeping her off her feet and pinning her up against the glass doors to her panoramic view. This time, no one’s looking at the ocean.
©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection
Inspired by this life-changing experience (She’ll later exclaim: “That one fucking dance changed everything in me”), Max is convinced Mike is an artistic genius sent to her for a reason. She makes him an offer he can’t refuse: Come to London for three months to mount a show at the historic theater owned by her ex-husband’s family. The plan is a bit unclear, to Mike and the audience, but Max wants to completely revamp the long-running period play “Isabel Ascendant,” which has regressive gender politics. The play’s main character must choose between love and money, a raw deal Max feels acutely. She thinks the new show will awaken women’s repressed desires, showing them they can have it all.
Carolin’s script falls short around this laughable excuse for a feminist aesthetic, in which rich women are empowered by keeping their husbands’ money. Against this backdrop, the movie’s obsession with men “getting permission” before touching a woman rings even more hollow, like a playground lesson in consent. The “Magic Mike” movies have always emphasized consent, and while that may be a lesson many men need to hear on the most childish of terms, its dopey execution feels patronizing to everyone else. One can hear the smug hum of a box being checked when one dance is introduced: “The sexiest act of submission is asking for permission.”
But nobody watches “Magic Mike” for the script, though the comedic energy of the gang from the first movies is sorely lacking (they appear once via glitchy video call). The Max storyline feels both predictable and unhinged, but it’s fun to see someone of Hayek’s experience still carrying a sexy romantic lead (a rarity in Hollywood). The plot doesn’t need to do much, and it hangs together long enough to deliver a truly spectacular dance show. The motley crew of beloved B-list actors are missed, but in their place we get real bona fide dancers. It may be Mike’s last dance, but it’s the franchise’s first real choreography, which includes a well-placed flash mob and a truly gorgeous finale that looks like something out of “Fuerza Bruta.”
Cheeky nature-movie voiceovers aside, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is an ode to the art of dance. Tatum, who’s been a producer on all three films, clearly wanted to flex his dance muscles, but he also seems genuinely in love with the art form. The movie’s casting montage may feel stilted and long, but it’s easy to imagine Tatum’s actual thrill at assembling the best dancers from around the world. When they stop talking and start dancing, that’s when the real magic happens.
Warner Bros. will release “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” in theaters on Friday, February 10.
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