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‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’ a misstep Featured

February 13, 2023
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One could argue that we are currently living through a golden age of unnecessary sequels. It seems that there’s a constant effort to revive and reinvigorate IP of varying degrees of dustiness; why make something new if you can make something familiar that people have already told you that they like?

Of course, that leaves us in a world where we’re surrounded by not just the ongoing blockbuster franchises that are the box office’s foundation, but also movies that continue stories that audiences believed had reached their conclusion (note: for the most part, audiences were fine with that).

And so we get something like “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” the third installment in the adventures of Channing Tatum’s charming and unlucky male stripper. Did we need another “Magic Mike”? Almost certainly not – especially nearly a decade after 2015’s better-than-it-needed-to-be sequel “Magic Mike XXL.” But hey – Steven Soderbergh came back (he directed the first film) and he’s always had a sort of quasi-muse thing happening with Tatum. Maybe it’d work?

Reader, it did not.

Look, the choreography is great – it’s always great in these movies – but that isn’t enough to carry the day. Particularly when you’re dealing with a confusing and occasionally bordering on nonsensical narrative. Soderbergh knows how to make this stuff look good – and there are stretches when this movie looks phenomenal – but when the story unravels upon even a cursory examination, it isn’t enough, despite the efforts of the director and his stars.

Via voiceover, we learn that Mike (Channing Tatum) has fallen on tough times. He had to shutter his custom furniture building business and is now making a living as a bartender; his days of exotic dance seemingly behind him. But when he works a fundraiser hosted by the socialite Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), everything changes.

A convenient sequence of events leads Maxandra to request a dance from Mike, who reluctantly agrees, only to give her the full Magic Mike experience. It has such an impact on her that Max decides to bring Mike to London to give him an opportunity.

Said opportunity is the reimagining of a play called “Isabela Ascending,” running at the historic London theater that Max owns (she got it as part of ongoing divorce proceedings that are both vaguely defined and narratively convenient). Max decides that Mike will be the new director of the show, injecting the high-octane stripper energy that every British drawing room romantic melodrama needs.

Yes, seriously.

And it only gets sillier from there. Max and Mike get closer and closer as they work on the show. Mike’s aw-shucks charms slowly start to grow on people like Max’s daughter Zadie (Jemelia George) and put-upon manservant Victor (Ayub Khan Din), even as ill-defined forces come together in an effort to stop the show for … reasons?

But the show must go on, even if it does wind up being Magic Mike’s last dance.

I could try to tell you more, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The plot only exists as a device to get us from dance sequence to dance sequence. What people do and why they do it is vanishingly low on this film’s list of priorities. This is a film that knows precisely what its main audience is looking for – dudes without shirts dancing sexily – and delivers it.

Honestly? It’s not a terrible time.

A lot of that comes down to Soderbergh, whose return to the franchise baffles me a little (though the fact that this was originally intended as an HBO Max release explains much of it). He has always had a knack for presenting this kind of kinetic visual and he seems like the kind of guy who gets bored easily, so maybe he just wanted to have some fun.

For what it’s worth, he definitely seems to be having fun, particularly with the elaborately choreographed dance numbers. Whether it’s just one guy or a stage full of them, there’s a bright and evocative energy to the proceedings (even if some of the one-on-one scenes linger a little too long). They’re fun to watch, too.

Unfortunately, the other stuff lags far behind. Apart from the dancing, the performances are lackluster. Tatum is fine here; he’s more suited for straight-up comedy, but Soderbergh’s always good about setting him up for success. And Salma Hayek is of course tremendously talented, but not even she can do much with this thinly-drawn character. And the two of them together just fizzle a bit. They’re both charismatic and sexy, but as a pairing, they’re less than the sum of their parts. The lion’s share of the blame falls on the script, but regardless, there’s not much, well … magic here.

The supporting cast does well enough. George and especially Din do a fair amount with relatively little. And the cavalcade of dancers assembled here is wildly impressive from a physical standpoint. They are tremendous dancers and we get to see those skills laid out in elaborate fashion. As I said, the dancing is easily the best part of this movie. Whether that’s worth the price of admission, all I can say is that your mileage may vary.

“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is a bit of a misstep, a movie that’s perhaps too little, too late. There are some good moves in the mix, but alas, too often, the threadbare narrative causes all involved to trip over their own feet. Let's just hope that the title is the truth; our man Mike might be getting a little long in the tooth to be spending this much time in the club.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 13 February 2023 09:34

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