Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek, Caitlin Gerard, Gavin Spokes
Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins
Rating: NC16 (Sexual References and Coarse Language)
Released By: WB
Opening Day: 9 February 2023
Synopsis: "Magic" Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) takes to the stage again after a lengthy hiatus, following a business deal that went bust, leaving him broke and taking bartender gigs in Florida. For what he hopes will be one last hurrah, Mike heads to London with a wealthy socialite (Salma Hayek Pinault) who lures him with an offer he can't refuse... and an agenda all her own. With everything on the line, once Mike discovers what she truly has in mind, will he--and the roster of hot new dancers he'll have to whip into shape--be able to pull it off?
Even though the point of ‘Magic Mike’ and ‘Magic Mike XXL’ was to cater to women’s fantasies, both movies tried to be more than just the sheer gratification of making them shriek and smile. ‘Magic Mike’, directed by Steven Soderbergh, portrayed Channing Tatum’s titular character as a working class individual struggling to pursue his dream of being a small furniture business owner while navigating the perils of the stripper business; on the other hand, ‘Magic Mike XXL’, directed by Soderbergh’s frequent collaborator Gregory Jacobs, celebrated female desire and elevated the stripping performance into an art form in and of itself.
We cannot say the same of ‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’, which sees Soderbergh return to the director’s chair for an underwhelming final chapter. Whilst the opening makes it seem as if it would be about Mike building back again after losing his beloved furniture business to the recent pandemic, Soderbergh and returning screenwriter Reid Carolin hardly make the film about Mike than about a new character named Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), the estranged wife of a moneyed British media mogul looking to define her own success after separating from her unfaithful husband by revamping a historic theatre in the West End that had just came into her possession.
As noble as the intent of demonstrating how “a woman can have whatever she wants whenever she wants”, Max’s transformation is barely compelling – after all, the most she does is to confront her husband when he tries to thwart her plans of replacing the current Regency-era play at the theatre with an all-male revue. Nor for that matter is her romance with Mike particularly interesting; whereas Mike remains the affable gentleman from start to finish, Max lets show her whims, insecurities and mood swings at every available juncture, and it doesn’t take long before whatever goodwill from the initial chemistry between Tatum and Hayek Pinault fades away.
Indeed, it is surprising how barely scripted the film is, a fact not even Soderbergh’s pacey direction can disguise. The first half-hour is essentially an extended calling card for Mike to demonstrate to Max just what he can get up to in a private performance, in order that she may make the invitation to join her in London. That is followed by a gap-filling hour populated by vaguely comic secondary characters, including a repressed city bureaucrat (Vicki Pepperdine), a grouchy manservant (Ayub Khan Din) and a precocious adolescent (Jemelia George). And last but not least, the finale is no more than an excuse to recreate the ‘Magic Mike Live’ stage show for the big screen, no matter how energetic the musical numbers are.
Still, you have to hand it to Soderbergh for not losing his audience’s attention along the way. As skin-deep as the opening act is, there is no denying that it is sultry and titillating, what with Tatum and Hayek Pinault oozing sex appeal and Soderbergh’s camera (once again under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews) staying close and continuous to their bodies. A flash mob sequence on board one of London’s double-decker buses is thrilling in its spontaneity and creativity, while glimpses of the rehearsals before the climactic final act whet our appetite for the brilliant routines choreographed by Alison Faulk and Luke Broadlick.
Though comprising mostly unknowns (and therefore without the same ‘wow’ as say Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello or Matthew McConaughey from the previous instalments), the fact that the performers are bona fide dancers (from the ‘Magic Mike Live’ shows) makes the finale even more spectacular, with Soderbergh’s skilful camera movements capturing the dance moves in their full glory. But it is Tatum’s rain-soaked routine with a ballerina (Kylie Shea) that is the real showstopper, a mesmerising number both dazzlingly artistic and dead sexy, and proof that Tatum has not lost one bit of that ‘Step Up’ talent.
Pity therefore that despite the electrifying dance numbers, ‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’ is probably the weakest entry of the trilogy. There is hardly any story or character here, even to the extent of draining almost all signs of personality out of Mike. It doesn’t help that the movie has to resort to laughable voiceovers on the supposed relationship between love, dance and self-discovery to bolster its legitimacy, after sidelining Mike’s cohort from the previous films to cameos on a Zoom call. At least the previous two films overcame their superficiality; the way we see it, this last dance cannot quite muster any resolve to offer anything more than naked, guiltless bliss.
(The most stripped down chapter of the trilogy, this Last Dance forsakes story and character for sheer gratification of naked, guiltless bliss)
Review by Gabriel Chong