It’s been 11 years since Channing Tatum first bared it all in Magic Mike, and yet Magic Mike’s Last Dance proves that he still has a trick or two up his G-string.
Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a threequel that’s simultaneously a continuation of its predecessors and, in terms of setting, story and tone, a bold departure that caps one of cinema’s most uniquely steamy trilogies. Delivering the male-entertainment goods while radiating a newfound degree of tender romanticism, it’s a fairy-tale coda that’s at once sensual, lyrical, and liberating.
Behind the camera once again after ceding directorial duties to Gregory Jacobs for 2015’s Magic Mike XXL, Soderbergh reconfirms his chameleon-like artistic sensibilities with Magic Mike’s Last Dance, which eschews both the straightforward subculture-immersed amour of the series’ maiden installment and the rowdy road-trip ebullience of its sequel.
That may not please those expecting merely more of the same, but Soderbergh has never been an auteur content to play it safe, and his return to this gyrating, dry-humping milieu is a predictably unpredictable detour that—inspired by the Magic Mike Live stage shows begat by the films—comes across as a swoon-worthy striptease variation on Pretty Woman.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is narrated by Zadie (Jemelia George), the teenage daughter of Max Mendoza (Salma Hayek), who crosses paths with Mike when he’s bartending at her ritzy Miami fundraiser. Down on his luck following the collapse of his custom-furniture business—another of COVID-19’s many cruel casualties—Mike is just getting by. However, a chance encounter at this shindig with Kim (Caitlin Gerard), a lawyer whom he wowed a decade earlier in a cop uniform at a sorority party, results in a referral to Max, who’s going through a nasty divorce to her media-mogul ex Roger and could use a pick-me up.
In a meet-cute that goes from awkward to fiery in a matter of moments, Max clumsily asks Mike to dance for her for a cool $6,000, and while that sum is less than the preposterous $60,000 he initially quotes her, it’s more than enough to compel him to come out of retirement for one final go-round.
Mike’s ensuing performance for Max in her living room, its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water at sunset, is an unforgettable erotic showstopper, as Mike slips into his undulating routine with ease. From a chair to a coffee table to a bookshelf to up against those giant windows, Mike rocks Max’s world, and once they’ve literally consummated their May-December passion—a development that’s so inevitable, Soderbergh’s cut to them in bed resonates as a wry joke—Max offers the former Xquisite club headliner an amazing offer: join her in London for a month (for his original $60,000 asking fee) to take the job of a lifetime.
With nothing tethering him to his Miami hometown, Mike jumps at the opportunity and is almost immediately whisked away on a private jet to the UK. There, he briefly Zooms with his encouraging buddies (who haven’t changed) and is introduced to Max’s gruffly loyal chauffeur-assistant Victor (Ayub Khan Din) as well as Zadie, a composed and studious girl (she’s writing a novel in her spare time) who casts a wary eye at her mother’s current obsession.
Zadie claims that Max never follows through on her pet project’s proverbial third acts, which feels like a challenge that Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin set for themselves with Magic Mike’s Last Dance. Before the film reaches its climax, though, it settles into a comfortable, silky groove at The Rattigan, an opulent theater that Max has acquired via her (ongoing) marital settlement.
Max hires Mike to remodel a stuffy 19th-century-set play into a modern expression of feminist escape, pleasure, and freedom, with him serving as director rather than star. Mike wisely doesn’t refuse this one-night-only shot to make “Pony” tony, and he and Max begin auditioning a variety of dancers—some formally coached, others trained on the sidewalks of London—capable of both raising women’s temperatures (with or without their shirts on) and reimagining stripping’s traditional maneuvers and energy as something more polished and poised.
Concerned about the damage such a hot-to-trot production might do for his family’s public reputation, as well as interested in simply screwing over his former wife, Roger tries at multiple points to halt Max and Mike’s endeavor, leading to perhaps the film’s funniest sequence: Mike’s dancers covertly spying on bureaucrat Edna (Vicki Pepperdine), who holds the key to approving The Rattigan’s renovations, and then delighting her with a choreographed dance on a city bus.
Nonetheless, there’s little legitimate conflict in Magic Mike’s Last Dance, and that which does exist concerns its protagonists’ simmering feelings for each other. Aided by Zadie’s erudite, theme-underlining voiceover, Soderbergh casts his drama as a woozy storybook reverie, framing his images for maximum sexiness (a canted shot of Mike and Max in bed is a casual stunner) and color-coding his action in warm blues, inviting yellows, and sultry reds that transform the material into a fantasia of empowered desire.
Despite its title, Tatum’s Mike plays second-fiddle to Hayek’s Max, an imposing if wounded older woman whose craving for release and rejuvenation (not to mention revenge) is echoed by the old-turned-new show she produces with Mike, as well as the architectural modifications she makes to her theater. Soderbergh doesn’t linger too long on any single plot detail because his real focus is the heat between his two leads, and that culminates during the prolonged finale involving Mike’s daring revue.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance peaks with a diverse series of numbers that are equally indebted to strip clubs, modern dance, and classic cinema, and are shot by the director (who’s also the cinematographer) with sizzling elegance. Better yet is the closing “water dance” by Mike and a ballerina that incorporates various moments from his and Max’s relationship. A by-proxy act of saying “thank you” and “I love you,” it’s a seductive scorcher on its own, and one whose electricity is amplified by Soderbergh’s crosscutting between the present stage and the couple’s past, highlighted by brief shot-reverse shot close-ups of Hayek and Tatum.
Dance’s capacity to heal, remake, renew, and bring together is all celebrated by Magic Mike’s Last Dance, which sets aside boisterous bumping and grinding for an intimate brand of eroticism, even as it expands its canvas to new dimensions. It’s a farewell lap-dance that’s all the more inviting for being so unanticipated.
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