Channing Tatum has always had profound notions of what dance is, and what it can be. Remember Step Up? The dance franchise that made him a star? Those films went for years and numerous sequels telling us that cool moves could make people fall in love, save a life, or even save the world. Tatum might be older, but his notions about dance are still the same, and we’ve seen that since Magic Mike introduced us to the stripper hunk with a dream. That was followed by the terrific bro comedy Magic Mike XXL, which had fun with the eroticism of male stripping. Sadly, the fun is gone with Magic Mike’s Last Dance, an unfocused, cautious, and frankly terrible finale that does its damndest to not give the audience what they came for.
Seriously, who makes a Magic Mike movie and leaves out the Magic Mike-ness of it? Steven Soderbergh does, that’s who. Returning to direct after switching jobs for the previous film, Soderbergh delivers a tame film that will have the ladies (and some men) keeping their dollar bills firmly in their wallets. And it’s all in service of a story that is basically an expansion of the first; Mike has seen his business go belly-up, and has been reduced to bartending at swanky Florida events to pay the bills. At one such event, he meets restless socialite Maxandra Mendoza, who is just dying for someone like him to come along and help get her groove back. She offers Mike a small fortune for just one dance, and he reluctantly agrees. He melts her down with a scorching dance that’s basically just sex with clothes on, and after a wild night of actual coitus, Max whisks him away to London for what she claims is the ultimate job opportunity.
What is that job? To revamp a stale, stodgy stageplay at the new theatre Max has inherited from her soon-to-be ex-husband, a media mogul who loves that place to death. And that’s why Max is looking to throw everything her former beau loved, and turn it over to the walking six-pack from Florida that she just met. It’s all very An American in Paris but a lot dumber.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is one of those films that I know, I KNOW, certain critics will pretend is much deeper than it actually is. Probably because of Soderbergh. We trust him. We have faith in him only directing something that is intellectually on solid ground. But this movie has no idea what it’s doing or where it’s going, and has way too many things happening all at once. None of them are things that actually propel the plot forward, either. Max is basically out for revenge and using Mike to help achieve that. But she also has an adopted daughter she barely communicates with. Max treats Mike like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, making sure he can look the part to impress her wealthy West End benefactors.
There’s an extensive recruitment sequence where Mike and Max pluck athletic street dancers for this show that nobody seems to be writing or even conceiving. Meanwhile, city bureaucrats are trying to shut the entire production down, Max is fighting with her ex, she and Mike are playing “will they or won’t they” like an episode of Moonlighting. Reid Carolin’s script has the narrative standing still doing the Cabbage Patch when it should be bumping and grinding all over the place.
Don’t get me wrong; the Magic Mike films have been JUST about watching guys thrust their pelvises in women’s faces. But it was used as a means of propelling a story. Mike has always been a character with motivation, however he has nothing here. It’s Max who is the drive behind everything here. It’s her that we learn is joking called “Queen of the First Act” because she’s always reinventing herself or taking on some momentous task that never amounts to anything. The problem with removing all of Mike’s agency in favor of Max is that she’s not the character we’ve invested two whole movies into. She’s the woman Mike danced for once and suddenly the movie is hers. We don’t know much about her and, honestly, Hayek and Tatum have zero chemistry so none of it works.
Soderbergh, Tatum, and Carolin are flipping the script here. There are too many Hollywood movies to count where the woman becomes a willing passenger in the aspirations of men and this feels like an attempt to subvert that. If Hayek’s character had been around for more than five minutes maybe that would make sense, but not for the final movie in a trilogy that is more than a decade old. This subversion feels forced, tired, and wholly unnecessary.
Originally an HBO Max exclusive, the film was clearly designed to be as PG-13 as possible for the streaming release. I dare say this is an altogether very conservative film. Sure, you get some abs; Tatum pops his hips in Hayek’s face a few times, but there’s a decided lack of steam-factor here. Even the opening grind is soft by comparison to anything seen in the earlier films, which genuinely felt like they were lifted straight out of the nastiest strip club in the nastiest Florida backwater.
There are some good things, however, because too much talent is here for there not to be. Soderbergh’s artsy shaky cam is jarring at times, but he at least keeps the film’s look from becoming stagnant. Serving as his own DP as he’s wont to do, Soderbergh is always switching up styles to fit the mood. Tatum is genuinely good as Mike, a role that was inspired by his own life. He’s never looked more comfortable than when getting to play this character, and in a way it’s sad to see it end, and to end on such a downer. Also really fun in a mentor-like way is Ayub Khan Din as Max’s manservant, Victor. His gruff demeanor hides a thoughtful and hilarious guy who always has the film’s best lines. Well, that is until some of Mike’s old pals show up for a choppy Zoom chat. Matt Bomer is mint in the few minutes he gets.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by waxing poetic about the true meaning of dance. It was always a bit silly, but you felt that Tatum and Soderbergh were in on the joke. This time around, the joke’s on them, and it turns out that Magic Mike had two left feet in the end.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance opens in theaters on February 10th.