Magic Mike's Last Dance review: In God we thrust

Magic Mike's Last Dance review: In God we thrust

To strip, perchance to dream; such were the humble hopes of Channing Tatum's "Magic" Mike Lane when this all began. And what the first film delivered back in 2012 was a kind of movie magic: a scrappy, scampish novelty about Florida men who take their pants off for a living, delivered with loose-limbed auteur style by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh.

Soderbergh departed for its brightly chaotic 2015 followup, and so did much of the urgency. Now both he and Tatum have returned — minus most other first-run cast members, beyond one brief Zoom interlude — for Last Dance (in theaters this Friday), an oddly inward and unhurried swan song that still shows flashes of the original's pelvis-forward bedazzlement.

At 40, Mike is no longer dancing for money, though he still has the face of a handsome Easter Island statue and abdominals etched in glass. To pay the bills his custom furniture business doesn't make enough to cover, he now does things like bartend benefits at the waterfront mansions of Miami's one percent, which is how he meets the extravagantly named Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek), recently separated from her media-mogul husband and desperate to feel like a woman again.

A little bird has told Maxandra about Mike's former occupation, and so, for a fistful of dollars — or one presumes, a large Venmo — she coaxes him out of retirement for one quick private interlude in her living room. What follows is the kind of outré set piece the franchise has become known for: a scene so acrobatic and erotic, it seems to defy at least one law of physics. (How can a body in motion stay that in motion?)

Magic Mike's Last Dance
Magic Mike's Last Dance

Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Salma Hayek and Channing Tatum in 'Magic Mike's Last Dance.'

Mike lapdances Maxandra back to life essentially, and she can't let that kind of joy walk out the door. So she impulsively invites him to join her at her main home in London — not as a lover, she makes clear after their one night together, but as a business partner: He'll take over the old West End theater that's been turning to dust under her ex's tutelage, and make it come alive with his American thighs.

After delivering polished blockbusters (Erin Brokovich, the Oceans series) for years, Soderbergh has consistently pivoted to smaller and more playful films over the past decade — quirky one-offs like the NASCAR heist thriller Logan Lucky, the stylized crime ensemble No Sudden Move, and 2020's delightfully aimless boat ride Let Them All Talk (all movies that are indie in feel, maybe, but still populated with giant stars: Meryl Streep, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig).

Like his last effort, last year's Zoë Kravitz house-thriller Kimi, Last Dance has the closed-in, often airless feel of a pandemic project: The cast is limited, and the let's-put-on-a-show script, by Reid Carolin (Dog), proceeds in leisurely fits and starts (not that Mike has ever been a man for elaborate plotting). There's a sense that the story is coming together, more or less, as it goes along — including Soderergh's tone, which swings from muted verité to pure, weightless fantasy (an inspired scene on a city bus straight out of a French New Wave musical; a rain-drenched forbidden-dance finale).

There's even (why not?) an archly self-aware voiceover supplied by Maxandra's disapproving teenage daughter (Jemelia George), who frames the whole thing as a modern cautionary tale of man vs. modern capitalism: Gather 'round and see, the endless hustles of a gig economy! She serves as the movie's informal Greek chorus alongside veteran British character actor Ayub Khan-Din (whose sniffy but secretly profane house butler has seemingly been lifted directly from The Parent Trap). Otherwise, main-character traits and motivations are left teasingly vague: Who is Maxandra beyond her money and her beauty? What does Mike, still a gorgeously blank bohunk, really want from middle age? Last Dance is missing a lot, but it has the moves you mostly came for — and in its final strobe-lit moments, the full release of a Hollywood ending. Grade: B–

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