Soap2day – “Magic” Mike Lane bumps and grinds all the time. He's the male stripper equivalent of a bank robber or cowboy who says he's done with crime but then gets called back for one last job. “Magic Mike's Last Dance", Channing Tatum's third movie about a big-hearted, tough-talking Florida stripper, knows that we know Mike doesn't feel truly happy unless he's dancing.
The "I'm done, don't ask me to dance" part of the ritual is over in less than ten minutes in Steven Soderbergh's new movie, which is to its credit. A short prologue shows that Mike lost his furniture business because of the pandemic and now works as a bartender at events that are catered in Miami. There, he meets Max (Salma Hayek), the wife of a wealthy man in London who isn't getting along with her and wants a divorce. Max offers Mike a huge amount of money to dance with him one last time. After a short act of refusal, he agrees. It's such a mind-blowing experience for Max (and the sex afterward is great, too) that she invites him to go with her to London to create and choreograph a stage show that will bring the Magic Mike experience to the West End. You know, the sort of thing that always happens.
The rest of the movie is a backstage drama about Mike and Max learning how to be a couple as they work together on the show and try to stop Max's husband from shutting it down for breaking rules about building in historic districts, etc. All of this is just a series of routine obstacles put in the way of Max and Mike's inevitable and well-deserved happy endings as lovers and creative partners.
"Magic Mike's Last Dance" is a patchwork that takes its entertainment goals very seriously but its other goals less seriously. There are dance numbers, romantic melodrama plot devices, and strange but interesting 19th-century styles (Max's teenage daughter Zadie, played by Jemilia George, tells the story of Mike's rise through London's upper classes as if she were reading an Edith Wharton novel from the 19th century). In many scenes, the working-class hero Mike is in situations that are way over his head. Mike says, "Uh, we're doing it!" when asked what he has planned for Act 3. He reminds me of a character from a 1930s movie about a poor boy who goes to a fancy dinner at a rich man's mansion, looks at the vaulted ceilings and chandeliers, and says, "What a joint!"
As is often the case with Soderbergh, who has been at the top of the directing heap for at least 20 years but still has the point of view of a hustling gig worker, "Magic Mike's Last Dance" pays more attention to class differences than most Hollywood movies that take place in the same setting would. When Max and Mike are talking about art, love, and happiness, the movie will sometimes cut to Max's butler Victor, who is played by Ayub Khan Din. This is meant to remind us that most people don't have the time to talk about such things without being distracted by boring everyday tasks.
Notice how well Tatum shows Mike's feelings when he is suddenly thrown into a new world where he doesn't have to fight to stay alive. He looks both happy and wary, as if he thinks it will all go away like his furniture business. Tatum grew up in a normal family in the south of the United States. He made it in Hollywood without having rich or famous parents or having connections in the business. He still has a little bit of "I can't believe this is happening to me" energy, which he uses whenever he plays Mike, and maybe even more in this one. We can see why Mike would be thrown off by all the chances that have come his way. But we also know that he's the kind of guy who can adapt quickly because he's spent most of his life serving people like this and knows how to give them the fantasies they want without giving up too much of himself.
This movie is a way for Tatum, Soderbergh, and the writer of the first two "Magic Mike" movies, Reid Carolin, to play around with a great character again without making the same movie twice. After giving us "Saturday Night Fever with a Stripper, Combined with a Mentor Whose Pupil Goes Bad" (aka "Magic Mike") and "Female Empowerment Fantasy and Male Bonding Comedy Disguised as a Comedic Road Movie with References to Apocalypse Now and The Odyssey" (aka "Magic Mike XXL"), they've made something completely different: a movie about desire, monogamous love, creativity, (Well, maybe a few times, mostly when characters repeat slogans about economic inequality that are simple enough to fit on a bumper sticker.)
At the same time, this is one of Soderbergh's funnier works that makes fun of itself. It's not as rough and silly on purpose as Soderbergh's semi-experimental comedy "Schizopolis" or as sexy as "Oceans 12." (the one in the franchise where Julia Roberts plays both her regular character and "Julia Roberts"). But the movie is just as much about Mike and Max and the dance production as it is about making movies, the creative process, and all the different kinds of movies and fiction it draws from. And it's about the idea that a stylish distraction can still have meaning, as shown by so many of Soderbergh's films. Max tells their artistic team, "This show is not about getting dick," and then he pauses for a nanosecond and adds, "Only."
Nothing would work if Tatum didn't look and act like a movie star. He is also probably the last American-born A-list movie actor who can really dance and has a few chances to show it. He dances with his leading lady a few times in this movie, but most of their tangos are emotional and intellectual, and the movie gives her a lot of time in the spotlight because of her fierce energy and focus.
No one is going to write thesis papers about how complicated the story is in this movie. Like the other two movies, but in a different way, it just goes where it needs to or wants to. All of this leads up to the big show, which is another movie format cliche. When the curtain finally goes up on a cabaret-like production that Tatum co-created and is a hit in London right now, complete with audience participation, the movie finds clever ways to connect what's happening onstage to what's going on inside Mike and Max.
"Magic Mike's Last Dance" is mostly about beautiful, fit bodies moving through space. Soderbergh and Tatum get to the heart of why people love movies, whether the actors are dance-miming sex that would get the movie an NC-17 rating if the actors weren't wearing clothes or doing a Bob Fosse-meets-"Singin' in the Rain" routine onstage or just walking and talking around London while dealing with worries that will kill happiness if they aren't kept in check. Soderbergh often makes fun of Marvel movies for not being sexual, but the way he films Mike and the other dancers shows that he knows this series is an R-rated fantasy for adults with libidos. Mike appears onstage in a flash of light and offers an instant escape to a world of aesthetic and sexual bliss, but he never crosses boundaries without first getting permission. When everything is over, he shows the customer back to her seat and thanks her.