And so the franchise built around Channing Tatum’s early career as a male stripper comes to an end, with one bang and, doubtless, several whimpers. Magic Mike’s Last Dance sees Steven Soderbergh return as director, director of photography and editor, writing credit goes again to Reid Carolin and Tatum makes it three in a row as he dry-humps a role that’s been good to him.
The “bang” refers to Salma Hayek’s character, the immensely rich Maxandra Mendoza, who hooks up with down-on-his-luck Mike Lane (Tatum) early on, then whisks him away to the UK after he demonstrates his Magic in a raunchy private routine that leads to the “happy finish” Mendoza expressly said she wasn’t looking for.
Soon, she and he are in London and, in rich woman style, she’s installed him as the director of a show she wants to put on in a West End theatre she owns. Out goes the fusty play already in residence, along with its actors and director, and in come the builders to rework the space into something more intimate.
What looks at first like a re-run of the plot of The Band Wagon starts to take shape – she wants something high tone; he wants to go raunchy – but Carolin’s screenplay picks that idea up and puts it straight back down again, one of many examples of this movie’s curious abundance of bits of unfinished business, unfleshed-out characters, plotlines to nowhere, emotional arcs dangling in space.
Some for instances. Maxandra’s spiky smart daughter, played by Jemelia George), who provides the film’s knowing and smart voiceover but has little to do in terms of plot and seems to be there to deliver a demographic quadrant – a pity, because George is the best thing in it. The council official who has the power to close the show, Edna Eaglebauer (Vicki Pepperdine), who is bought off in a dance number set on top a London double-decker. It has the makings of a highlight but it’s all done too briefly. Suzanne Bertish as Renata, a choreographer who looks like she’s going to have some major role but is introduced only to be largely ignored. The sensational dancer Kylie Shea, who arrives in the film’s climax, dancing with Tatum in what looks like a faint echo of the Girl Hunt finale from (again) The Band Wagon. So good, so underused. She barely gets a line.
It’s as if Carolin had got as far as getting all his elements onto the table and then thought, “You know what, people aren’t that interested. They just want to see Channing take his top off,” and so instead of sitting down and getting to work, he instead just put all the bits in a bag and gave them a shake.
He has a point, though. Weak though this is as a drama, it comes to life whenever the dancing starts, most notably in the sequence where Mike and Maxandra tour London looking for street dancers to make up their crew of hunky guys with funky moves, and again in that extended finale, when the backstage drama gives way to the show itself.
The stuff about female empowerment, female sexual desire and controlling the narrative of pleasure has all been said in the first film, and the subject of men defining themselves through their job, that’s also all been said before. Both exist as phantom themes here, but nothing more.
There’s not much to get your teeth into, in other words, if the prospect of sinking them into Tatum’s bronzed, toned body doesn’t appeal. It’s better than Magic Mike XXL, second of the series, which turned out to be more a no-show than a show. But not as good as the original film, which, let’s face it, said everything that needed to be said.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2023