Magic Mike’s Last Dance‘s tagline proves prophetic. “The Final Tease” is of course meant to allude to the fact that this is the third and final installment in the trilogy that introduced us to the titular male stripper over a decade ago. But rather, the film is a tease in itself, promising something bigger and more grandiose than it intends to deliver. What could’ve been a rousing finale to one of the most surprisingly effective and entertaining trilogies is but a talky, tedious affair that makes you yearn for the whimsical, road-movie spirit of Magic Mike XXL.
As was the case for countless performers and entertainers, “Magic” Mike Lane’s (Channing Tatum) career as a stripper took a fatal blow with the COVID-19 pandemic. A few messy breakups and a failed business venture later, and he’s working as a bartender for a catering company. At a swanky charity event, he meets Maxandra “Max” Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), a wealthy business mogul in freefall amidst her divorce. She longs for an escape. After hearing from a guest who once got a lap dance from Mike at her bachelorette party, Max demands similar treatment. Even though he has quit dancing all together, he can’t refuse this offer.
Mike dazzles Max with his grinding and gyrating enough for her to make the decision to take him to London with her. In a total surprise to him, Mike becomes the new director of a performance theater Max owns/operates. With the pandemic having subsided, Max intends to give the ladies of London a production filled with so much male-stripping and feminist undertones that the target demo will melt into the floor of the theater. But Max’s vision is unwieldy and messy, and the sexual tension between the two heartthrobs gets in the way no matter how diligently they try to suppress it.
The immediate disappointment in Magic Mike’s Last Dance is the absence of characters like Big Dick Richie, Tarzan, and the rest of Mike’s stripper friends. One of the best scenes in the film is when Mike does a Zoom call with the boys, the only time they ever appear. Talk about shining a light on what’s missing. Gone from this third installment is the camaraderie that made the first two films so fiercely watchable. The bromance of the strippers was an integral part of the narrative.
The three new characters — Hayek Pinault’s Max, Ayub Khan Din’s eccentric butler Victor, and Max’s daughter Zadie (Jemelia George) — fail to leave an impact. The film is narrated by Zadie, which is another odd choice given that she only has one or two scenes with Mike before he goes off to direct the play. You’d think that Mike would bond with the dancers once the cast-list is set, but the extent of their development is the montage sequence of them showing off their moves in hopes of landing a role. Oddly enough, it’s Juliette Motamed’s Hannah — the ringleader of the show, which commences during the final 20 minutes of the film — who is the most developed, although it’s an eleventh-hour decision by that point.
The dynamic between Mike and Max is all sorts of strange. Max is essentially paying Mike to spend time with her, and the inherent sexual politics are never discussed. Worst of all, screenwriter Reid Carolin manufactures conflicts by having Max start arguments with Mike for no reason other than the illusion of dramatic tension. The words “feminist” and “empowerment” are tossed around the script because the whole idea for this show is Max’s disgust with the theater’s antiquated productions, one of which forcing the female protagonist to choose between love or money. But these buzzwords remain only that as the film trudges forward, awkwardly mixing the fledgling romance between Mike and Max with tireless choreography that doesn’t come close to being as entertaining as anything this series has done in the past.
There’s far less dancing in Magic Mike’s Last Dance than you might expect too. Of course, the finale is the play itself, but that’s only after about 90 minutes of plot contrivances and love-hate relations. The dancing itself remains impressive. The titular number is entertaining as hell, frankly, and the rain-drenched stage adds a dynamic new layer to the performance. But even after that electrifying dance, I still wanted to hear Ginuwine’s “Pony” one last time. It does play, but we hardly see any of the dancing that takes place while it booms. This sequel could’ve marginally been saved if it had one final knockout sequence to that exceptional tune, but we can’t even get that luxury.
How ironic is it that Steven Soderbergh started this series and subsequently managed to direct the two weaker installments? Gregory Jacobs, who directed XXL, is back to being a producer, and sidelined is all the inherent friendliness and charisma that permeated the first two films. In trying to go out with a bang, Soderbergh and Carolin misconstrue the appeal of this series, and waterlog it with trivialities long before Magic Mike’s final dance number. This sequel has two left feet, bumping and grinding its way to a screeching halt.
NOTE: Magic Mike’s Last Dance is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinault, Ayub Khan Din, Jemelia George, Juliette Motamed, and Alan Cox. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!