Stripped Down

‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’ finishes the trilogy with some sweet romance…but not much stripping

The third time’s not the charm for torso-twisting, bicep-bulging, pelvis thrusting Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) and his engorged gyrations on the dollar-strewn stage. Magic Mike’s Last Dance is the unexpected third and maybe-final-who-knows entry in an improbable Hollywood-studio trilogy about male exotic dancers. Compared to the cultural flex of its two swole predecessors, this randy weakling can’t quite bench-press the same sexy load.

MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinaut, Ayub Khan Din, Jemelia George, Juliette Motamed
Running time: 112 min

Stripped-down? In more ways than one—especially since Mike’s charming crew of fellow thong hoofers from the previous installments here only makes a Zoom appearance. Sorry, Joe Manganiello stans, Magic Mike’s Last Dance downsizes that eye-popping dick pump gag from the original to an eggplant emoji. But the franchise still has enough alchemy to conjure up a few cheap thrills, along with—surprisingly—genuine hot flashes of romance.

The first two films are pay-for-play morality tales, and that economic filter also colors the story for Last Dance. Now 40, Mike is bust: his furniture business didn’t survive what a British narrator baroquely describes as “the economic tsunami of the global pandemic,” so he’s a mixologist for a Miami-based catering service. While bartending at a fundraiser, he chats up the disaffected hostess, wealthy Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinaut), with empty words of wisdom. “People like to look at what they can’t have,” he growls. “I guessss,” Max sighs with comic ennui. Money clearly hasn’t bought her happiness.

But then one of Max’s comely lawyers recognizes Mike from his bygone lap-dance days, and she thinks it might just be the pick-me-up to lift her boss’s spirits. So Max coaxes him out of retirement for a private farewell performance—which blows the stiletto pumps right off her feet. And suddenly the moneyed MILF is inspired to mastermind a new project: flying Mike to England in her private jet and paying him $60,000 to transform a dowdy London stage play into an erotic beefcake cabaret. A Mad Libs puzzle would have more internal logic than that last sentence. And yet it’s the plot.

Channing Tatum gears up for a slick water ballet with a sexy ballerina in ‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance.’

Magic Mike impresario Steven Soderbergh—who not only directed the first and third films, but also produced, shot, and edited all three—started this supersized threepeat experiment in filmed choreography with an unexpectedly grounded look at economic distress and hedonistic self-destruction. Its follow-up was a brawny lowbrow bacchanal road trip that turned bro time into show time. Both were just as poignant as they were pointed, offering up relationship confessionals about bad choices, regrets, commitments, hopes, fears, longing, and lust. Now, for the finale, he settles for reviving the hoary “let’s put on a show” warhorse and layers it with “love-or-money” chestnut tropes. And then he lards the entire production with the kind of empty, out-of-touch opulence that’s all too common in sequels. It’s more of a fantasy—which makes it more a letdown.

Then again, it’s still a major motion picture where middle-aged characters wrestling with sadness and existential doubt about their life choices find succor and joy—and even inspiration—in each other’s company. So props for leaning on emotional propositions instead of just physical pop-and-locks. The idea of broke-ass Mike living in the lap of luxury holds out-of-phase promise, but comes off a gimmicky instead of genuine. And the motley posse of street dancers he and Max assemble—plus an Italian stallion they import from Rome—really don’t distinguish themselves either with charming personalities or disarming moves. In spite of the missteps, this Magic Mike still shows some fleet-footed moments that make it worthwhile.

Case in point is the early-on lap dance scene between Mike and Max, a dry-hump pas-de-deux that practically ejaculates its sexual chemistry all over the audience. Who knew movie stars were still up for grinding their faces into each other’s crotches? It’s funny, it’s hot, and it’s weirdly sweet. And then, by the end, when Mike choreographs a stylized, staged, rain-drenched water dance homage to the first-act’s horndog humping, the film echoes all the steamy-sweet vibes from before.

At its best, Magic Mike’s Last Dance conjures some of that erotic pixie dust which aroused wet bachelorettes and lonely-heart singletons who watched its predecessors. This latest tease will let them down, but a few fleeting moments will warm their hearts just as much as their groins.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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