Moving Pictures
Feb 10, 2023, 06:25AM

Magic Mike Sunsets

Magic Mike's Last Dance isn't quite on par with the first one, but it's an improvement over the 2015 sequel.

Channing tatum e0e032e23bf248a28e61f1ebee3420b2.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

The Magic Mike series is unlike any other. It's a series of movies about male strippers, while at the same time touching on both the American Dream and the centering of female desire, with an idea inspired by star Channing Tatum's youthful stripping career. The first movie, from 2012 was directed by a major filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh, and was so entertaining that it has huge appeal beyond its target demographics. The second (2015), Magic Mike XXL wasn’t much of a step down from the original, despite its subtraction of co-star Matthew McConaughey. And now there’s the third, Magic Mike's Last Dance, which mostly connects.

Soderbergh returns to the director's chair; the second film came out during his alleged "retirement," although he merely shot and edited that movie.

Just as the first film had Tatum's Mike Lane turning to stripping after he struggled to get his furniture business off the ground during the Great Recession, the new one opens with Mike's business gone bust due to the pandemic. He's now about 40 and a bartender, working at a charity function led by beautifully-named rich lady Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek), who soon learns of Mike's former profession and asks him for a dance. What follows is one of the horniest dance/love scenes in recent cinematic history, made all the more amazing in that the still-gorgeous Hayek is 56 and played a stripper (who was also a vampire) in From Dusk 'Til Dawn, which came out 27 years ago.

From there, the film takes a major pivot: With the promise of $60,000, Mike’s brought to London. He hasn't gone gigolo; instead, he's put in charge of what was formerly a stuffy production of a 19th-century play called "Isabel Ascendant," held at the theater owned by Maxandra's estranged husband. His task? Make it sexy, and more importantly, responsive to female sexual desire, complete with striptease-like dances from an eclectic crew of male dancers. It's a sexy revival that makes Daniel Fish's controversial staging of Oklahoma! look like nothing.

Along with the beefcake dancers is actress Juliette Motamed, who steals several scenes as a serious thespian from the old play who jumps at the chance to star in the new, horny version. It's the early plot of Ted Lasso, with a fish-out-of-water American suddenly brought into the middle of a big-money British divorce. At first I thought the idea was to re-enact the plot of Major League, with the wife tanking the theater in order to screw over her ex-husband, but just like Ted Lasso, Last Dance comes up with a better solution instead.

For the franchise itself, this is a big risk. The series is taken out of the familiar Florida/Southeastern milieu, and also subtracts Tatum's stripper pals (Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, and Adam Rodriguez), who appear only in one scene over Zoom; their interplay was one of the better parts of the earlier films. Nash, the ex-pro-wrestler who's now in his 60s, was a particular hoot in these movies. Amber Heard's character from the second film doesn’t return either, nor does anyone else.

It's a very different kind of movie, albeit still enjoyable. It turns out his old days with the Cock Rockin' Kings of Tampa gave Mike expertise in stage choreography. The final show is like the big game at the end in a sports movie, and it doesn't disappoint. The film drags a bit in the middle, and a narration by Maxandra's character never really works at any point, while a subplot involving a butler (Ayub Khan-Din) keeps seeming to lead to a payoff that never arrives.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance was originally meant to head straight to HBO Max, but is getting a theatrical release by popular demand. While not the best film in the series, it’s a worthy series closer. 


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