'Magic Mike's Last Dance' Is a Limp Final Thrust

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinault, Ayub Khan Din, Jemelia George, Juliette Motamed

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

BY Prabhjot BainsPublished Feb 10, 2023

Each Magic Mike movie belongs to a different genre. Steven Soderbergh's 2012 original — despite its infectious gyrating and bevy of well-oiled, chiseled specimens — was an understated recession-era portrait of people trying to stay sexy, swole and ultimately human within a cutthroat economy. Gregory Jacobs's sequel, XXL, flipped that semi-grounded concept on its head, pelvic thrusting through the original's underlying gravitas with unadulterated euphoria, moving from one unforgettable dance number to the next, absent any narrative stakes. 

Magic Mike's Last Dance, which Soderbergh returns to direct, is part destination comedy, part rom-com and part musical (à la Bob Fosse's All That Jazz). It's an eclectic mix that is cobbled together in a manner that fails to be much of a cinematic experience at all. Lacking in Mike's signature sexy thrust of exhilaration, Last Dance lifelessly bops onto the dance floor with two left feet.

Opening with a lazy voiceover that details the post-pandemic life of Mike (Channing Tatum), he finds himself in the doldrums of bartending in Florida. His former reputation as a dancer catches the attention of the wealthy and glamorous Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault). who convinces Mike to accompany her to London to put on an electric, provocative twist on a Jane Austen-esque production. The two attempt to assemble a hunky roster of talented dancers, all the while reckoning with a budding romance.

Soderbergh's trademark voyeuristic lens takes centre stage in the stellar opening dance sequence, gliding through Maxandra and Mike's first encounter with a subtle scintillating touch. It nails the buildup, delectably moving from one sultry pirouette to the next, tapping into the raw ecstasy that washes over Maxandra with each perfectly timed thrust. 

Yet, directly after that quietly explosive opening, any notion of such riotous sensuality is abandoned, stripping the film down to a barebones, tame iteration of a dance movie. Rife with rote audition montages, poppy tourist imagery and eye-rolling narration, any semblance of that Magic Mike wonder and Soderbergh's unique cinematic language is nowhere to be found. 

The groan-eliciting narration is the result of a "troubled family" subplot involving Maxandra's adopted daughter, Zadie (Jemelia George), who spells out the film's attempt at commentary with obvious statements like, "Dance can bring people together." Instead of realizing the mother-daughter dynamic naturally, the arc only serves to justify the runtime and the film's ultimate patchwork of an existence. Moreover, her inclusion is also meant to buttress the film's overarching female empowerment message, but renders it too politically correct to even have the slightest sense of fun. 

What's worse is that previous series staples such as Joe Manganiello's "Big Dick Ritchie" and Kevin Nash's "Tarzan" are done a grave disservice, relegated to Facetime cameos that last mere seconds. Last Dance not only does away with what made the franchise special, but also does so with little regard to what came before, rendering the brotherhood that underpinned the previous films a negligible footnote. Rather than being a grand culmination of the Magic Mike legacy, Soderbergh's bookend manifests as a slight detour.

Last Dance attempts to make up for the missing brotherhood element with a swooning romance. Yet, the feigned will-they-won't-they dynamic lacks tension and, most of all, passion, as their developing relationship is played noticeably safe and innocuous. It floats through the romantic comedy formula with strict adherence when it should be painted with reckless abandon, especially since the two are putting on a show that hopes to shatter the tired "bird in a gilded cage" female narrative. This listless duo is also the result of two performers who are noticeably phoning it in, with even Tatum's natural charisma barely shining through.

The film takes us behind the scenes of Mike and Maxandra's London show, which is a delight to behold, but these moments are never made the focal point. In its place, Last Dance bizarrely finds conflict in bureaucracy, as the London Building Commission takes issue with the production's expansion into their historic venue, the Rattigan, owned by Maxandra's husband. The motley crew of dancers then attempt to persuade public servants by wowing them with their moves on public buses and streets. These sequences only serve to create a cartoon shell of a dance film that misunderstands the franchise's appeal.

It's only fitting that Magic Mike's Last Dance concludes with an underwhelming dance number that not only pushes Mike to the background of his own movie but is impressively unsexy. Soderbergh's final entry climaxes way too early, seldom shining and entirely losing its lustful appeal.
(Warner Bros.)

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