It pains me—PAINS ME—to report that Magic Mike’s Last Dance isn’t very good. It’s not terrible, it could definitely be worse, but it’s a huge step back from the joy of pleasure-focused Magic Mike XXL and the more character-driven drama of the original Magic Mike.
Channing Tatum once again stars as beleaguered Mike Lane, a guy who just wants to make furniture, dammit, but can’t escape the world of exotic dancing. This time, COVID has ravaged his furniture business, and he's now bartending catered events to make ends meets. At once such party in Miami, he meets Maxandra (Salma Hayek Pinault), an almost-divorcee who agrees to pay lavishly for a private lap dance. After their dance ends in a night together, Maxandra shifts their relationship to business-only, pledging to back a Mike-directed show in London, turning her almost ex-husband’s posh theater into a cabaret of the carnal, at least for one night.
Steven Soderbergh is back as director this time (Gregory Jacobs directed Magic Mike XXL), and Reid Carolin, who collaborated with Tatum on the Magic Mike Live show, once again pens the script. (Working under pseudonyms, Soderbergh also lenses and edits the film.) Soderbergh was supposedly inspired by seeing what Tatum and Carolin did together with the live show, which is described as “hot” and “hilarious” in marketing materials, which is strange, because Last Dance is neither hot nor hilarious. It’s also not particularly romantic, despite the focus on Mike and Maxandra. It’s also the least sexy film in the franchise, and it’s lowkey annoying so much of Last Dance is devoted to “legitimizing” exotic dancing, when the previous two films celebrated the guilt-free prurient enjoyment of spectacle and flesh.
The previous Magic Mike films aligned dancing with working class labor, a la Dirty Dancing and Flashdance before it, and while Soderbergh, Tatum, and Carolin remain interested in art and exploitation and the limits of creative control versus economic support, all of it feels stiff and disinterested in this installment. The script is terribly underwritten, no supporting character makes an impression, and Hayek Pinault is left to make a meal from crumbs. She does, because she is a great actor and has decent enough chemistry with Tatum but the bones of something more interesting lie just under the surface. There’s a reverse Pretty Woman tucked in the Maxandra-Mike romance, but one where escaping “the life” isn’t the point, the point is that the life IS the life. There’s also a sharper film about art and exploitation, in which a gifted artist nevertheless wishes to pursue something different only to be forced, by economics and social pressure, to do the thing he excels at, but does not love.
What exists, though, is a middling effort from a talented bunch of people who have done this better previously and sort of sleepwalk through it here. The opening scene of Mike meeting Maxandra has some fire and flare, but it fades quickly and never returns. And Soderbergh’s lensing is ill-suited to the dance numbers this time—what happened? They were SO GOOD in XXL and he lensed that movie, too!—which renders the dancing distant, even impersonal. It’s sort of meta-hilarious when Mike goes on about “connecting” with the audience, and the film fails to form that connection itself.
Magic Mike is a grimy character study about the limits and lies of the American dream, and Magic Mike XXL is an unabashed fantasy romp through female pleasure and the female gaze (it’s basically the movie everyone thought Magic Mike would be). But Magic Mike’s Last Dance is just sort of there, offering a lukewarm love story with some dance numbers, like Step Up 2 Grown Ups. I can’t escape the notion that the first scene should be the climax—no pun intended—of the film, that the arc isn’t Maxandra bringing Mike up to her level, but him bringing her down to his. That this is, fundamentally, the story of working class indulgences and base pleasures, and dressing it up with makeovers and fancy theaters is missing the point.
That is the worst sin of Magic Mike’s Last Dance, it’s just one big missed opportunity for what should have been the capper to an accidental franchise driven entirely by audience enthusiasm, much like Magic Mike’s shows. Mike Lane goes out with a whimper and not a bang—no pun intended.