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‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’ Review: Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek’s Lusty Romance Can’t Save Latest Installment



Near the end of 2015’s Magic Mike XXL, before putting on their sexiest show, our beloved troupe of strippers (or male entertainers, as they prefer to be called) hear the ecstatic cheers of the crowd on the other side of the curtain. “They’re doing a fucking Twilight routine and they’re mopping it up,” Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) says, exasperated by the preceding group’s PG-13 gyrations and graceless body rolls. Tarzan (Kevin Nash) isn’t surprised: “All those tweeners are growing up, man — makes perfect sense.”

If you keep Tarzan’s nonchalant sentiment in mind, then you may be able to forgive the frustrating disappointment that is Magic Mike’s Last Dance. The latest installment of the Magic Mike Cinematic Universe — a franchise that includes the enjoyable Magic Mikethe raucous Magic Mike XXLa reality television show called Finding Magic Mike and the tour Magic Mike Live — replaces its rollicking debauchery and subtle critique of capitalism with basic gender theory and vague eroticism. Those grown-up tweeners are only getting older, and the franchise seems to be in the business of courting them — or who they think they are.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance

The Bottom Line

Strays too far from its roots.

Release date: Friday, Feb. 10
Cast: Channing Tatum, Salma Hyek Pinault, Ayub Khan-Din, Jemelia George
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Reid Carolyn

Rated R, 1 hour 52 minutes

This third act of Mike’s adventure awkwardly strides into the politics of women’s pleasure and the constraints imposed by the patriarchy. In an attempt to, perhaps, say more than its predecessors and catch up with a culture that has perfected its articulation of gender oppression without doing much about it, Magic Mike’s Last Dance abandons the buddy-comedy and road-trip template for a girlboss romantic comedy. The film organizes itself around a woman negotiating her desires, asking a familiar and elaborate question: Can she have it all?

The answer is yes, probably — because she’s loaded. A stunning Salma Hayek Pinault makes her Magic Mike franchise debut as Maxandra Mendoza, a wealthy socialite with a killer sense of style (a shout-out here to Christopher Peterson’s opulent costume design) who’s reeling from news of her husband’s infidelity. She meets Channing Tatum’s Mike Lane (and his chiseled pecs) at her fundraising party in Miami. After shuttering his furniture business and entertaining a string of failed relationships, Mike now makes a living as a bartender. Unmoored by destabilizing personal events, both Mike and Maxandra are going through tough times.

Their relationship begins as a contract. On a tip from a friend who recognized Mike from his days as a stripper, Maxandra tries to hire him for a lap dance. An uncomfortable exchange ensues: The demure divorcée only hints at her request, leaving Mike to fill in the blanks and politely inform her that he’s no longer in the business. When she asks him to name a price, Mike, recalling the money he owes his friends for their early investments in his furniture store, rethinks the proposition. The brief encounter turns into a longer rendezvous, with Mike and Maxandra performing acrobatic feats with their bodies. He grinds and slides; she blindfolds him and arches her back. The camera stays close, smoothly and intimately trailing their path around the apartment. Clothes never come off, but the scene is sultry and titillating — a sign, surely, of what’s to come.

But Magic Mike’s Last Dance never capitalizes on those steamy 20 minutes, which is a shame because the ingredients for a gratifying follow-up are all here: Hayek and Tatum’s flirty banter and initial chemistry immediately pull us in; Steven Soderbergh returns as director and cinematographer; and a new location promises a fresh crop of sculpted dancers. But the film is so baggy, so preoccupied with its own ambitions — re-establishing its support of women’s desires, addressing a new generation, etc. — that it deflates into flaccid fluff.

Part of the problem is the narrative structure. Reid Carolin — who wrote the first two films — returns as a screenwriter and makes the odd decision to frame Magic Mike’s Last Dance as an anthropological project-cum-novel penned by Maxandra’s teenage daughter, Zadie (Jemelia George). Her observations, presumably missives from her future self, guide us through her mother and Mike’s adventures, but they sound more like forgettable Wikipedia entries than profound sentiments on the relationship between dance, love and self-discovery.

After her life-changing night in Miami, Maxandra invites Mike to London. She wants him to help her revamp the theater she brokered during her separation. Its current show, Isabel Ascendant, a Regency-era play about a woman who must choose between marrying for love or money, embodies the very constraints Maxandra is trying to escape; It’s up to Mike to direct a new, sexier show that puts a woman’s needs front and center. The project is part revenge-seeking (Maxandra wants to get back at her husband, Roger, played by Alan Cox) and part soul-searching (after decades of marriage, she wants to find herself again). Mike, now falling for Maxandra’s steely stares and quick wit, agrees to help — for a fee.

In London, Mike undergoes a wardrobe makeover shepherded by Maxandra. A brisk sequence introduces us to the socialite’s life in the city — highlighting the expensive stores she shops at, her prickly relationship with sharp-tongued Zadie, her warmer one with her driver and butler Victor (a fantastic Ayub Khan Din). In a brief moment of quiet, Mike catches up with his old crew through video chat. That scene, perhaps more than any other, underscores the vacuum left by Magic Mike’s Last Dance‘s new direction. Watching Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan and Richie romp, laugh, tease and perform with Mike was half the fun of the series.

As Mike grows comfortable in the role of director — a position that shrinks his previous sense of purposelessness — so does his appetite for a spectacular and meaningful production. Taking a page from the real-life Magic Mike touring live show directed by Tatum, Magic Mike’s Last Dance embraces a variety of contemporary dance styles. Mike and Maxandra — whose relationship morphs into a will-they or won’t-they chase — scout new talent in London’s streets. But the routines we end up seeing — choreographed by Alison Faulk and Luke Broadlick — fit in more with Tatum’s. Step Up days than they do Magic Mike. They don’t really replicate the horny energy of Mike and Maxandra’s first meeting or other sexy, jaw-dropping moments in previous films. They may remind you, instead, of Tarzan and Richie’s complaints: They might as well be Twilight routines.

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