'Magic Mike's Last Dance' review: Just sit back and enjoy it
PLOT A former stripper puts on a West End stage play.
CAST Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinault, Jemelia George
RATED R (suggestive sexuality, language)
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Superficially feminist and supremely silly, but Tatum and Hayek Pinault nearly save the show.
In “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” the male body succumbs to the female gaze and becomes a vehicle for liberation from patriarchal oppression. I didn’t make that up — it’s all there in the movie. Back in 2012, it was enough for the original “Magic Mike” to put Channing Tatum, as exotic dancer Mike Lane, in a cop costume that ripped away to reveal spandex undies. In this new and possibly final sequel, however, even the basest sexual fantasies must conform to high-minded ideals.
With sex work as their subject, the “Magic Mike” movies have always grappled with complicated ideas — class, in the first movie, and to some extent color in 2015’s “Magic Mike XXL” — but never as preachily as here. Luckily, the movie is too confused to hammer home its messages consistently, and so we also get a mix of loosey-goosey comedy and awe-inspiring dance sequences. With the ever-charming Tatum reprising his role as Mike and a rather bonkers Salma Hayek Pinault as Maxandra Mendoza, a wealthy socialite who puts him in charge of a West End stage extravaganza, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is basically an old-fashioned Mickey-and-Judy musical — “Let’s put on a show!” — albeit with a lot more skin.
What the two leads lack in erotic chemistry they make up for with a game-for-anything energy. Mike and Max’s first encounter — he’s tending bar at her fundraiser, she offers him $6,000 for a private dance — is such a cringey display of snakelike moves and silk-sash bondage that you’ll wonder how the actors suppressed their giggles. Nevertheless: So satisfied is Max that she simply must help Mike do the same for the women of London! There, Mike endears himself to Zadie, Max’s tween daughter (a sullen Jemelia George), and Victor, her manservant (Ayub Khan Din, verydroll).
The story feels thin and contrived, mainly because it’s been reverse-engineered from the real “Magic Mike” stage show, launched in Las Vegas in 2017. Meanwhile, Mike keeps punting his creative choices to Max as if he's afraid to be — what? Too sexual? The dancing can still astound, though, especially when Tatum performs a rain-soaked duet with ballerina Kylie Shea that echoes both “Flashdance” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Steven Soderbergh and Reid Carolin (who created this franchise with Tatum) return to direct and write, respectively, but without their usual cool intelligence. The feminist platitudes here feel about as sincere as the flag-waving in a “Transformers” movie. “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” offers the spectacle of perfectly sculpted bodies in motion; why try to justify it? Better to let us — as Mike might say — just sit back and enjoy it.