If Magic Mike was a movie about the realities of male stripping, Magic Mike XXL was a movie about the fantasy of male stripping. In bringing back director Steven Soderbergh for part three (Gregory Edwards directed the second), I was hoping the third might combine some of the grit of the first with some of the fun of the second.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is certainly an attempt at another romp, but Soderbergh’s return seems less to have brought it back to reality and mostly to have stripped it of kitsch. Which for a franchise about all-male revues is sort of like losing a pitching arm (a kitsching arm?). If Magic Mike was “what does the dick shaking really mean?” and Magic Mike XXL asked “what if even more dicks shaking?” Magic Mike’s Last Dance offers us “the dicks are still shaking, but they have British accents now.”
We catch up with Magic Mike Whateverhislastnameis (star/producer Channing Tatum) as he’s bartending a charity gala at a rich lady’s home. The rich lady, wouldn’t you know it, has lost her mojo, but she’s gotten a hot tip from a gal pal that the guy behind the bar was up until recently the world’s foremost purveyor of the art of getting ladies’ grooves back. This lady, Maxendra Mendoza, played by Salma Hayek, corners Magic Mike after the other guests have left and coyly attempts to inquire if perchance he might grace her with some hearty thrusting.
“Sorry, M’lady, I’m retired,” growls Mike. She asks him to name his price, he says 60 grand basically as a joke, but she offers him six for real and soon they’re making sweat angels on her satin sheets.
“So, was that Magic Mike’s last dance?” she asks huskily, cuing the pointing DiCaprio gif.
Maxendra has her groove back, in spades. To the point that she now demands Mike fly to London with her for a surprise job. The surprise, it turns out, is that Maxendra has taken over a London theater in a pre-divorce agreement (don’t ask) with her most recent ex, a rich Rupert Murdoch-esque media titan-type guy. Up until now, the theater has been staging Isabel Ascended, a stuffy Jane Austen-esque play about a Victorian lady trying to choose whether to wed for love or for money. Maxendra has hired Magic Mike as the new creative director in the hopes of adapting his life-changing private dickmatism into a stage show for London’s literati. Who’s more sexually repressed than the British, after all. Magic Mike’s Last Dance then becomes the latest entry in the good ol’ fashioned “puttin’ on a show” genre.
Maxendra’s goal with this stage show is, supposedly, to shatter the myth that Isabel should be forced to choose between two boring chodes, the rich dud or the broke Romeo. “Why can’t she just shag them all and then do as she pleases?” fumes Hannah (Juliette Motamed), the only actor from the original Isabel Ascended to stay on for the male revue version.
Why indeed (I mean, lots of reasons, probably, but put a pin in that one for now).
I’ve always said that Magic Mike was a guy movie masquerading as a girl movie. It’s ostensibly about male stripping but really it’s about broke dudes trying to wrap their brains around what it means to be a man through a kind of kitschy gender play. Magic Mike‘s Last Dance clearly actually wants to be a movie for women and about women, only it can never quite escape the fact that it’s still made by men, who can only really know women so well. Their relative unfamiliarity shows in a series of weak generalizations.
Magic Mike never tried to be something for all men, because they knew that would’ve been foolish to try (and that no one would expect them to, which is an underrated facet of “privilege”). It was about one weird subculture with guidance from a guy who was actually part of it (Tatum famously being a former male stripper). And yet now that Magic Mike’s Last Dance is deliberately about women, it gets over-broad and corny, asking unanswerable women’s mag headlines like “what do women really want?” and “can the modern woman really have it all?”
“Is this stage show about male strippers sufficiently feminist?” is not a question I imagine any prospective Magic Mike’s Last Dance viewer needed asked. Is it feminist to pay $6,000 for sex? Maybe? I guess? Who cares? Probably it’s most feminist not to have to ask.
Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin seem to belatedly realize that “what does this particular woman want” is a more interesting question, attempting to draw a parallel between Maxenda and the fictional Isabel (she has a rich dud and broke stud too, get it?!). That could’ve, and should’ve, been kitschy and cute and the heart of the movie. Instead, it gets bogged down in weird minutia like the theater’s building codes, the sociological history of dance, and Maxenda and her ex’s confusing British non-divorce. (A British divorce isn’t final until a man in a powdered wig decides who gets the puddings). There’s a series of sexy buff English dudes brought in to do the dick shaking but we literally never even learn their names.
It’s also hard to figure out what the conflict actually is. What’s actually stopping Maxenda from just shagging them all and then doing what she wants? A woman writer and/or director might have actually had an answer to that, but Carolin and Soderbergh don’t, and so they substitute a series of contrived obstacles instead.
It’s not hard to watch Channing Tatum dance sexily with a sopping wet, barely clothed ballerina (as he does with real-life ballerina Kylie Shea in the finale), but didn’t we already do that in the Step Up movies? Magic Mike’s Last Dance pretends to be something more but in the end really isn’t.
‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’ is available now only in theaters. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can read more of his reviews here.