Channing Tatum Takes on “the Zombie Apocalypse of Sexual Repression”
DIRECTED BY STEVEN SODERBERGH/2023
Being a kept man is not so bad. Just ask former exotic dancer “Magic Mike” Lane (Channing Tatum). One minute he’s mixing drinks poolside for lonely rich lady’s party, the next he’s inside rearranging her living room in anticipation of what he swears will be his final striptease. For him, the enchantment with the adult entertainment scene faded long ago. But having Salma Hayek Pinault offer a quick $6000 for a single performance can bring such a guy out of retirement real quick. What follows is a prolonged scene of pure bump-n-grind acrobatic libido fire. For Hayek Pinault’s character, Maxandra, the magic comes on full force. It’s almost like a fairy tale awakening…
Once upon a post-pandemic time, Mike Lane’s dream has died. The custom furniture business went under and his girlfriend officially split. He’s reduced to being a bartender for hire for rich people parties. Then he hooks up with Maxandra. Next thing he knows, he’s being swept off his feet to London to direct a sexy male revue of his creation.
Before long, however, the bump n’ grind grinds to a halt as Last Dance becomes focused on staging the show in Maxandra’s estranged husband’s historic London theater, and her relationships with Mike, her powerful ex (Alan Cox), her snarky comic relief manservant (Ayub Khan Din), and her astute teenage daughter (Jemelia George). Then in comes the hard-nosed Vintage Architectural Preservation Board of London, or whatever we want to call it. Irate about changes made to the respected venue to accompate Mike’s show, they move to shut it all down. Suddenly Magic Mike’s Last Dance becomes a “We gotta save the theater/show!!” movie. And even that goes limp all too soon.
Before all that, Mike’s film’s other big mission is to reel in dancers off the street and from YouTube to be in this show. The dozen greatly talented new nameless dudes recruited for this film are glorified props, free of the burdens of dialogue or characterization. Glaringly gone is the male camaraderie so key to the previous entries, Magic Mike (2012) and Magic Mike XXL (2015). Last Dance falls out of synch in relegating Mike’s colorful cohorts, so prominent in the other films, to a brief Zoom call on a laptop. For good measure, Mike abruptly slams the computer shut on them when Maxandra walks in. This action is wholly indicative of Last Dance’s priorities. The poster tells the story: instead of Tatum flanked by by his bros mid-gyration, it’s a romance novel cover still. Moreso than ever, straight women of a certain age are the primary intended audience (think Hayek Pinault’s age and thereabouts). In that way it more resembles Mamma Mia! than the previous Magic Mikes.
All this is not to say there’s zero magic. One might even go so far as to note that Last Dance returning director Steven Soberbergh (who helmed the original but merely shot and edited the first and only other sequel, Magic Mike XXL) is more interested in vague notions of “magic” rather than “Mike”, who’s essentially an affable cypher this time. Mike’s got two literally showstopping dance numbers. One is the initial private lapdance/tumbling routine that gets the narrative blood flowing. The other is a literally theatrically staged affair with Tatum and ballerina Kylie Shea. Fueled by a rain-machine, the two slide and cavort their way out of their saturated outer lairs until they’re to their skivvies. Both are super-hot stuff. Despite the use of the term “stripper”, there is no nudity in Magic Mike’s Last Dance. Some of the film’s target demographics may cry out about gender-enforced double standards; others may breathe a sigh of relief.
In the Truth In Advertising department, the word “dance” is not inaccurate. While this film does scrimp on “male entertainer” performances in comparison to the previous two, when it does perform, it’s full-on impressive choreography. That was not the case in Magic Mike XXL, which only showcased a lot of strippers strutting and other such onstage nonsense. (Soderbergh’s original Magic Mike was a welcomed as a sly commentary on the economic recession, a thinly veiled biopic of pre-fame Tatum, and more fuel for costar Matthew McConaughey’s then-trendy “McConaissance”). This time, the film functions as more of a musical than anything else, the two big performances being the whole raison d’etre. A comedy/drama like its predecessors, not so much.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance, for all its suggestive, sensual, and occasional outright sexual moves, feels, by measures, more restrained. Perhaps that’s because it’s narrated by a minor, who demonstrates more observational acumen than both adult leads combined. Or, maybe it’s because this film was created as a direct-to-HBO Max project, and was therefore ever so much more the toss-off?
As long a Tatum hits his marks and makes his moves, and is charming as a prince, he’s fully serving his purpose here. His legacy character-turned-unicorn Magic Mike may not get a happy ending per se, but it might just be a happily ever after.