Early in the film, the title character, stripper turned furniture designer Mike Lane (Channing Tatum), reduced to pouring drinks at a charity fundraiser in Miami, is invited to perform a lap dance for Maxandra “Max” Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), a wealthy woman who is going through an ugly divorce and needs some cheering up. Mike doesn’t dance anymore, he tells her, cheekily quoting a price of $60,000. To which Max counteroffers $6,000 — and Mike accepts.
What follows could be called, euphemistically, dirty dancing: It looks like it required the services of an intimacy coordinator more than a choreographer. It’s fun, a little bit funny and hot. And for a minute it feels like this third installment — again directed by Stephen Soderbergh, returning to the franchise after handing over the keys to “Magic Mike XXL” to his first assistant director Gregory Jacobs in 2015 — might be a return to form.
No such luck. The only connection to the earlier films is a brief Zoom call Mike has with his Florida stripper pals Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) — all uncredited. If “Last Dance” stirs any old memories, they’re likely to be of Tatum in the 2006 dance-off romance “Step Up.”
If you thought “XXL” was disappointingly market-driven — and we did — brace yourself against the back of your chair for this finale, which bumps and grinds and thrusts itself at you like, well, a fake police officer at a bachelorette party. The pandering symptoms of sequelitis are full-blown here. Oh, and it’s also completely bonkers.
One thing leads to another — just because returning screenwriter Reid Carolin says so — and Mike’s performance for Max ends with the two of them in bed, after an apparent act of off-camera coitus. (It’s seems odd to cut away from sensuality when Mike’s dance itself is essentially a pantomime of copulation.) Max is so satisfied that she offers Mike $60,000 on the spot to fly with her to London to direct a dance version of the stuffy drawing-room stage romance currently in production at her estranged husband’s theater, which Max now controls. Mike accepts (even with Max’s stipulation that there will be no more sex), and the rest is — well, a rather tedious affair, to be honest.
Tatum has laid-back charm in spades, but he works so strenuously to be likable, supportive, nurturing, deferential in this role — and let’s not forget, an object of sexual desire, flipping the dynamic of the male gaze 180 degrees — that he’s practically overheating. Mike knows nothing about theater or traditional stagecraft, but that doesn’t stop him, in a movie that is tied to plausibility with the flimsiness of a G-string, from re-envisioning the play as a vaudeville version of a Chippendales act, complete with a steamy pas de deux, carried out in artificial stage rain, with the ballerina Kylie Shea. And when a municipal bureaucrat (Vicki Pepperdine) threatens to shut down the show because the stage is three-quarters of an inch too high, Mike is able to get her to change her mind with nothing more than a flesh-mob dance by his all-male revue, staged on a city bus.
Look: None of the “Magic Mike” films are documentaries. But something about this one suggests that Soderbergh and Carolin know just how full of hooey and problematic sexual politics its story of an eroticized yet sexless relationship between a middle-aged man-child and an older woman is. Even the screenplay seems to contain efforts to inoculate itself against criticism, with the film’s narration — courtesy of Max’s teenage daughter (a fine Jemelia George) — referring to how dance need not obey the laws of reason or logic but only liberty. Got it.
Then there’s this rhyming couplet/rap from Mike’s stage play, which features female audience members being — there’s no other way to describe it — dry-humped by shirtless young men: “The sexiest act of submission / is to ask for permission.”
“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is so commodified, I almost expected to find T-shirts printed with that slogan available in the lobby.
R. At area theaters. Contains sexual material and strong language. 115 minutes.