Review By: Jonathan W. Hickman
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek, Alan Cox, Ayub Khan Din, Jemelia George, Juliette
Motamed, and Vicki Pepperdine
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Available in wide theatrical release
A stone-faced Channing Tatum romances a bombastic Salma Hayek Pinault in the lightly entertaining but decidedly unromantic "Magic Mike's Last Dance."
It's not that Tatum isn't charismatic or talented; it's that his character Mike Lane lacks a personality. In this third and final installment of Magic Mike's sex-filled, rollicking journey, he comes off as a listless leaf blowing aimlessly in the wind. Worse and possibly more subversive, Mike could secretly be masquerading in a Patricia Highsmith novel, where he's a stand-in for the devious chameleon conman Tom Ripley. If only director Steven Soderbergh had such lofty ambitions.
The premise of "Last Dance" makes a case for the initial Highsmith comparison. We meet Mike as he bartends at a party in Miami. Through one inane line of voice-over narration, we learn that Mike's furniture business went under due to the pandemic. While this is possible, the details of his company's demise are infinitely more interesting than anything presented in this weak sequel.
Did Mike have to hustle or use Only Fans to keep the doors to his factory open? No matter, Soderbergh wants us to forget about Mike's history and all the goodwill he developed so that this production can bunk-off to jolly old England.
The stoic Mike is recognized by someone on the party's host's legal team. One thing leads to another, and the wealthy host, the comically named Maxandra Mendoza (Hayek Pinault), makes Mike an offer he can't refuse. Their initial hookup, which involves an intimate erotic dance, is an eye-popper, but the sheer emptiness of what follows insults Mike's legacy.
Following a memorable night, Maxandra, who is involved in perpetual divorce proceedings, hires him to perform an undisclosed service. Because the hapless Mike has nothing else to do, he joins her on a private jet to London, England. And, let's face it, who wouldn't?
The montage introducing the historic capital city of the UK is laughable. We get a series of shots of tourist trinkets and a few landmarks. This sequence eventually lands at a brownstone and a theater where Mike learns that he's going to write and direct a show, let's call it a cabaret or a showcase for his particular talents.
But Maxandra's mania is troubling. Mike meets her precocious teen daughter Zadie (Jemilia George) and loyal manservant Victor (Ayub Khan-Din). Both reluctantly accept Mike's presence in their home while also casting an accusatory eye toward the strange relationship he's quickly developed with Maxandra.
While "Magic Mike's Last Dance" might be pitched as a romance, it's less concerned with the relationship between its two attractive stars and more interested in the mechanics behind creating a stage show. Sadly, there's little joy associated with these sequences that make up the bulk of the film. One entertaining scene set on a public bus is fun, but aside from some athletic, gymnastic-style dance moves, there's not a lot of engaging narrative purpose to what we witness.
And unlike the prior films, we learn next to nothing about the dancers. These muscular, gifted performers aren't even given names. They are merely a backdrop that Soderbergh activates when he runs out of a story to tell.
If Soderbergh wanted to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the planning of the "Magic Mike" stage extravaganza, he would have done better to set this film in New York or Las Vegas, where the city might have played a more integral role. The way Soderbergh shows rainy London, I doubt many viewers will be chomping at the bit to make a trip across the big pond.
Tragically, Tatum and Hayek Pinault aren't given anything approximating a traditional courtship to generate any credible romance. The artificial nature of their union is continually unconvincing and, when pressed, falls apart. By the end, prognosticators will give their future a few months, tops.
But not everything in the movie is dreary and disingenuous. The concluding stage performance features a well-choreographed dance number on a rain-drenched platform. Oddly, the sparks generated by Mike and a ballerina in this sequence point up those not present between Mike and Maxandra. The talented leads have virtually no chemistry.
It's disappointing that Soderbergh decided to bring Mike's story to an end in such a surface manner. In the first film, Mike is an enigmatic presence. His desire to escape the life of a stripper led him to some dark places. And in the sequel, he was forced to return to stripping to expand upon his exceptional talent for the profession.
"Last Dance" ignores the darker parts of Mike's past and effectively dulls the edge of the character. This weakness makes him a bit of a wet dishrag, a fellow so lacking in charisma that it is impossible to appreciate what Maxandra sees in him beyond some carnal desires.
Ultimately, Mike is turned into a parody of his former self, a weak imposter who ignorantly takes up with a sugar momma because he has no direction, nothing but his body to offer. I don’t want to shortchange the inherent value of dance as an artistic medium, but "Magic Mike's Last Dance" hardly personifies such intellectual concepts.
What message does this Magic Mike installment articulate? A vacant one, I assure you.