Narrated with precocious prescience by a character too young to see the film on her own (or parts of the stage show within it at all), MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE asks the age-old question, “What do women want?” This being a film about a preternaturally talented male stripper, the answer can only be a lap dance by someone who cares. Or at least can fake the sincerity to seem to. Even, in one of the plot’s more patronizing points, to prompt a dowdy middle-aged bureaucrat to chuck everything she’s spent a lifetime building after a ripped dancer gives her the eye (and the hip thrust)
Certainly, it’s what opens the door to a new opportunity for Mike Lane (Channing Tatum), the erstwhile male-stripper whose dreams of creating custom, high-end furniture crashes and burns with the global COVID pandemic. Now working the gig economy as a bartender, he finds himself doing just that at an exclusive fundraiser at the luxurious Florida home of Max Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault). There he has a brush with his past when a guest, who is also a former client, outs his past to the Max. By coincidence, Max has had another very bad day of dealing with Roger, the soon-to-be ex-husband (Alan Cox) who wants her back, and her daughter, Zadie (Jemelia George), the ci-mentioned narrator who wants nothing to do with her. After the guests leave, Max, otherwise renowned for aggressively going after what she wants, timorously propositions Mike for a dance (without a happy ending) in order to get her mind off her troubles. Naturally, it’s life-changing, performed by the duo with a fine balletic grace and the inventive athleticism of your classier soft-core films.
Before Mike can quite figure out what’s happening, he’s being whisked off to London for what turns out to be an elaborate way for Max to get even with Roger, re-establish her relationship with Zadie, and give permission to women everywhere to have everything that that want. How will she do that? Shut down the very successful, if stuffy, play currently playing at the venerable theatre she received from Roger, and put on a strip-show cabaret extravaganza. To be fair, she does insist on the best dancers she can find to perform (who audition by giving her a lap dance). The cute part (it’s not) is that she doesn’t clue Mike in on the plan until they arrive at the theater, where Max announces to the cast and director of the current offering that it’s over.
It’s the stuff of the most pandering expression of the Harlequin-esque romance novel, and, thus, aside from Zadie’s wonderfully astute socio-anthropological dissection of the role of dance in culture throughout the ages, is painfully shallow and obvious. The putative sexual tension between Mike and Max as Max insists on keeping things strictly business, fails to materialize. She dithers and makes the requisite drunken pass, which he gently but firmly rebuffs with the skill of a professional who can take or leave the offer but prefers not to endanger the $60K she is paying him to get even with her ex in a less carnal fashion. Props to Tatum, who is such a likeable, self-deprecating bro wisecracking his way through life amid the upper crust, that Mike may come off as venal (with honorable motives) but not insensitive. And he certainly wants to give value for money, gamely trying to come up with a dazzling show from scratch in four weeks. It also gives him the best line in the flick, when a sudden inspiration prompts him to ask the show’s moon-faced stage-manager (Ethan Lawrence) to find him a plumber and a ballerina.
If we take as given that the real raison d’être of MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE is the choreography, the result fares better. The dancers, Tatum included, are dynamic and ingenious, not to mention limber. The set pieces are slick and sexy, but after two hours of seeing them (or hearing about them), there is something, ahem, anti-climactic about the big finish. The sight of audience members dancing in the aisles in jubilant abandon rings hollow at that point and feels more than a little forced.
The most interesting person on screen is one whose abs (ripped or not) we never see. That would be Victor (Ayub Khan Din), Max’s factotum and occasional adult supervision to her more childish impulses. Providing an arch commentary to the goings-on about him, this anything but discreet servant provides his own dissection of the rich and entitled class he serves, sometimes with only a small but deliberate rearrangement of his formidable eyebrows. If there must be a sequel to MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE, let it be Victor and Zadie, even if it’s only the two of them over a pot of tea holding forth on the world’s ills and how they would fix them. Alas, I doubt that even they, perspicacious and pithy as they are, could make the film in which they are stuck into something other than an overlong and wearying bit of glitzy eye-candy.