THE STORY – Mike Lane takes to the stage once again when a business deal that went bust leaves him broke and bartending in Florida. Hoping for one last hurrah, Mike heads to London with a wealthy socialite who lures him with an offer he can’t refuse — and an agenda all her own. With everything on the line, he soon finds himself trying to whip a hot new roster of talented dancers into shape.
THE CAST – Channing Tatum & Salma Hayek Pinault
THE TEAM – Steven Soderbergh (Director) & Reid Carolin (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 110 Minutes
The existence of “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is extremely improbable. For one, it’s highly improbable (or at least highly irregular) that Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 film “Magic Mike” would spawn a sequel, let alone a franchise that includes a live show (“Magic Mike Live,” now in residence in Las Vegas and London and touring the US), a reality television competition series (“Finding Magic Mike,” originally on HBO MAX and now available on Roku TV and Tubi), and now a third film. Soderbergh coming back as director after not directing the first sequel, 2015’s “Magic Mike XXL,” is improbable in that it is unprecedented; his first work on a sequel at all since 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen,” and the first in a trilogy where he didn’t direct all three films himself. It’s also highly improbable for a film that is so unashamedly a feature-length advertisement for a said live show to get theatrical distribution eight years after the previous film. Perhaps most improbable of all, though, is that despite all of the improbability of its existence, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is actually a very good film in its own right.
The story occurs in the present day, with Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) struggling to find his place in the world after COVID killed his custom furniture business. While bartending at a charity function, he ends up giving the event’s hostess, the wealthy, sad, about-to-be-divorced Maxandra (Salma Hayek Pinault), a private dance that unlocks something inside her. Feeling inspired, she immediately whisks Mike away to her home in London, where she wants him to direct a live male strip show to replace the dusty play revival currently playing in her husband’s family’s theater, which she now owns. The one stipulation? That the two of them not sleep together again. Mike’s down, but can he really direct a whole show with a lot of producer interference from Maxandra? Will her husband’s family even allow the show to go on? For how long can Mike and Maxandra ignore their smoking-hot chemistry? And what do Maxandra’s smart, sullen teenage daughter (Jemelia George) and her novel have to do with any of this?
The film’s major artistic gamble is its incorporation of third-person narration, which is revealed to be coming from Maxandra’s daughter. This narration focuses on the art of dance – its history, what it means, and how it connects people. While at first, it feels almost like a riff on “once upon a time”-style fairytale narration, it doesn’t really end up going there, leaving the intention behind it a bit mystifying, other than Soderbergh and returning writer Reid Carolin wanting something to represent “high” art alongside the “low” art of stripping. The series has put the respectability of stripping very much at its center, what with the second film’s insistence on calling the crew of dancers “male entertainers” and Mike’s insistence throughout the series that he’s giving up dancing for good to move on to more noble pursuits. Now, with a theater in London, Mike has finally gotten to the most respectable level of stripping. This is not the seedy Tampa strip club where Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas reigned supreme, nor the private member’s only palace where Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome ensured her patrons were treated like queens. This is a legit theater with trained dancers, a big budget, and an audience who paid theater ticket prices to sit and be entertained by men presenting their art for the audience’s pleasure (and maybe their own, too).
But for all that, is Mike happy with this? Does he even really want it? Carolin’s script is disappointingly thin on character this time around, leaving Tatum and Hayek Pinault to fill in many blanks. Thankfully, both actors are movie stars for a reason, and they can convey a lot without dialogue. Plenty of well-judged reaction shots give us all we need to know about how these characters really feel about the important things. The private dance that essentially opens the film is a miniature masterpiece of filming bodies in motion, with Soderbergh’s camera slinking around them like a panther stalking its prey. Both performers have rarely looked better than they have here, and their connection to their bodies is on full display, conveying so much about how these characters are feeling about what is happening in the moment. Hayek Pinault, in particular, is excellent at tracking Maxandra’s journey from a woman uncertain of her place in the world to a woman who knows exactly what she wants and what she will give up to get it. The story is working with so many tropes that the screenplay calls it out several times, and while this could be a detriment, the film is so surprisingly funny and so fleet on its feet that it’s easy to forgive those tropes.
It’s also easy to forgive the film for those tropes because you don’t really go to a “Magic Mike” movie for the plot. You go for the dancing, and the dancing on display in “Last Dance” is just as spectacular as you’d expect, especially since much of it is taken directly from the real-world audience-tested “Magic Mike Live” show. There might be less of it throughout here than there was in the previous two films, but more dancers and dance styles get featured than before, and the climactic performance takes up essentially the entire last act of the film, so there’s still plenty of bang for your buck. That climactic performance is actually a good analog for the film as a whole: It may be a cash-grab, and its story may be a little thin, but it’s slickly shot and extremely well-performed, with a cheeky sense of humor that endears you to it even though its flaws are readily apparent. “Last Dance” might be the least of the “Magic Mike” trilogy, but it’s still entertaining enough that, once again, it’s a pure pleasure all the way through. No guilt is necessary.