Year:  2023

Director:  Steven Soderbergh

Rated:  M

Release:  February 9, 2023

Distributor: Warner/Universal

Running time: 112 minutes

Worth: $14.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinault, Jamelia George, Ayub Khan-Din, Juliette Motamed

Does the romance make much sense? Not really. Is anyone really watching the film for the romance? Probably not.

Poor Mike Lane, he just wants to make custom furniture, but that’s never going to work out for him while there is a show that requires him to gyrate with his shirt off in front of an audience of appreciative women.

Steven Soderbergh began the Magic Mike franchise (which is what it has become with three films, a stage play, and a reality show) with a gritty story about the post-financial crisis worldin Florida, which saw Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) and his accidental protégé Adam supplement their dwindling incomes by becoming exotic dancers for a strip club run by the hedonistic and venal, Dallas.

Magic Mike balanced the glitz of showbiz with the seedy underbelly of drugs and crime. It also had a lot of very attractive and oiled up men dancing, wearing very little. Some audiences might forget that Soderbergh was trying to engage in social commentary with the first film, but they won’t forget the stripping.

The second film Magic Mike XXL, directed by Gregory Jones and set three years after the first, ditched all notions of grit and went for a road trip buddy comedy with strippers. To make some money after Dallas took off with all the cash and ‘the kid’ overseas, the troupe including Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello who delivered the best scene in the movie), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash). The group consistently tried to one-up each other and succeeded mostly because of its attention to the distinct personalities in the troupe and a robust joy that overrode how, basically these guys were just off to compete in a stripping competition. It was somewhat joyfully low stakes and tapped into what audiences wanted – jockstraps and grinding.

Reid Carolin, who has written all three movies, is back with his script for Magic Mike’s Last Dance and Soderbergh once again returns to the director’s chair. Here, we see Mike Lane working as a bartender in Miami after his furniture business went bust. Again, he’s no longer dancing but when a wealthy socialite, Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault) gets wind of Mike’s special talents, she calls him in for a private session at her exclusive party.

Soderbergh frontloads all the chemistry building and sexiness in the first encounter between Mike and Max. It’s impressively gymnastic, with Max being a very willing participant in Mike’s particular brand of magic. The one evening of incredible dancing (no sex) leads to Max deciding that Mike has unlocked something that has been missing from her life and jets the somewhat submissive man to London where she plans to shake up the sleepy establishment that has been suffocating her with her soon to be ex-husband as a target for revenge.

In terms of plot, that’s as much as the film really sets up. Max is rich and she wants to live a life of freedom, even if it costs her all the wealth she married into. Mike is at a loose end and just goes along with Max. Her plan is to embarrass the unfaithful establishment money husband by overtaking The Rattigan Theatre which has been in his family for years. Ostensibly, it is hers to manage while they are married. The theatre is currently showing Isabel Rising, a stuffy period play where the titular heroine has to make a choice between marrying for money or choosing to follow her heart and marry a good but poor man (this is Carolin’s version of metatext). Max will fund a single night of the show titled Isabel Rising: Revolution and it will feature a revue of male strippers breaking down the narrative of the play and turning it into a feminist statement. Mike will direct.

A voiceover provided by Max’s daughter Zadie (Jamelia George), breaks down what is important about dance in creating bonds between people. It’s probably unnecessary, as we are shown that in spades. However, Zadie is one of the cannier and funnier characters in the film and her presence lights up the screen whenever she’s on it. Also, a joy to watch is Max’s grumpy butler, Victor (Ayub Khan-Din) who isn’t afraid to go all Downton Abbey on Max’s ass when she’s being a bit of a child.

What is missing from Magic Mike’s Last Dance is the rag-tag nature of the previous troupe. Other than a zoom cameo from some of the cast members, they are gone. What replaces them is a better group of dancers (one is even a classical trained ballet dancer), but the audience really has no idea who they are. They are background, but nonetheless stunning background. There is no real down and dirty dancing (jeans stay on), except for Mike’s performance, which is his love letter to Max.

The feminist statement that the film is trying to make is a little trite and condescending. “Consent is sexy” or “Here is a sexy CEO who pays his women workers more than men” or the truly cringeworthy “A bad boy who actually texts back.” It’s quite marvellous to see Hannah (Juliette Motamed) who stars as Isabel in Isabel Rising subvert her character and turn into the emcee for the troupe. Her burn-it-all-down attitude is perhaps the strongest feminist representation in the film.

Tatum truly loves to dance. Magic Mike was in part inspired by his own history as an exotic dancer before he became famous. He still has the moves and is undeniably sexy. Hayek Pinault is amusing at times, but overly histrionic at others. Do she and Tatum have chemistry? Yes, they’re both very attractive actors who can sell sensuality and sexuality on screen. Does the romance make much sense? Not really. Is anyone really watching the film for the romance? Probably not.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance has a fittingly “Hollywood Ending” for Mike. Audience will conveniently forget that the last two films ended up with him getting the girl. This time, he is getting a woman – filled with flaws and inconsistencies. Arguably, Max is getting the better end of the bargain but if it makes Mike happy, then more power to him.