Sexiness of Magic Mike's Last Dance can't mask nonsensical story
It’s difficult to nail director Steven Soderbergh down. The filmmaker jumps from genre to genre like few other people in Hollywood, having put out prestige dramas, action movies, horrors, and inscrutable art films. He’s now returning, for the third time, to the story of an ambitious male stripper in Magic Mike’s Last Dance.
The trilogy capper starts off in a spectacular way, with Mike (Channing Tatum) working as a bartender at a charity event put on by the confusingly-named Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault). Clued into his past, Maxandra offers to pay Mike an exorbitant amount of money for one dance, leading to a sequence that might challenge any in film history for its level of sexiness.
Maxandra soon convinces Mike to accompany her back to her home in London, where she owns a theater whose show she hopes Mike can revitalize. The bulk of the film is spent in a straightforward but somehow baffling way, detailing the process of Maxandra and Mike putting the show together – finding dancers, fighting city bureaucracy, and maybe falling in love along the way.
Written once again by Reid Carolin, the film is defined by two great sequences that bookend its nearly two-hour running time, with a story that doesn’t make a lick of sense put in the middle to fill it out. Maxandra is somehow convinced that Mike’s choreography skills can revive a stuffy Victorian play, but – despite it being the main plot point – the film never seems to adequately explain how he’s going to do that.
Instead, viewers are treated to an extended sequence in which they gather together an appropriately multicultural group of dancers. But instead of spending a lot of time with them at the theater, Carolin and Soderbergh decide their time is better spent at Maxandra’s home, where she and Mike half-heartedly discuss plans, and Mike has awkward interactions with her butler/valet Victor (Ayub Khan Din) and daughter Zadie (Jemelia George).
Even weirder is the decision to have Zadie provide occasional voiceovers, droning on with odd philosophies about the redeeming power of dance. This would be all well and good if Zadie was a more important character, but to call her tertiary would be kind. She becomes even more of a distraction in the film’s final sequence, when the inappropriateness of a girl her age being at a male strip show is returned to repeatedly for no apparent reason.
There’s no denying that Magic Mike is now one of the defining roles of Tatum’s career, and he plays the part extremely well, both in the physical and acting sense. Hayek Pinault starts off fine, but the effectiveness of her character wanes as the film goes along. The male dancers in the show are close to anonymous, almost literally providing nothing but (hot) bodies to put on display.
One would hope that Soderbergh and Carolin had good reasons for returning to the Magic Mike franchise after eight years, but whatever those were, they’re not apparent on screen. Two spectacular dance sequences do not a movie make, no matter how sensual they are.
Magic Mike's Last Dance is now playing in theaters.