Channing Tatum bows out gracefully in Steven Soderbergh’s muted farewell to the stripper franchise

Magic Mike's Last Dance

Source: Warner Bros

‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’

Dir: Steven Soderbergh. US. 2023. 111mins

The often-euphoric Magic Mike trilogy ends on a muted note, de-emphasising the ecstatic dancing to follow the titular former stripper as he ponders the next chapter of his life. Returning to the franchise after his frequent collaborator Gregory Jacobs directed 2015’s Magic Mike XXL, Steven Soderbergh crafts some supremely sexy sequences, but Last Dance often seeks to subvert the crowd-pleasing tone of the first two instalments. Channing Tatum continues to play the slightly dim but goodhearted title character in an endearing manner as he navigates encroaching middle age and a potential love interest (Salma Hayek Pinault) – both of which leave him feeling wary.

Tatum has not lost a step, continuing to deliver stunning moves

Opening on February 10 in the UK and US, Last Dance may not have the same electric word-of-mouth as the previous films – in large part because there are fewer big dance numbers. (Also Mike’s old stripper pals are largely absent.) Reviews will probably be less glowing, and more modest theatrical returns seem likely. 

Pushing 40 and still living in Miami, Mike Lane (Tatum) is at a crossroads, leaving behind his stripper past while bartending to make ends meet. At one such gig, he meets Max (Hayek Pinault), a wealthy woman in the process of getting divorced, who finds out about his former occupation and asks Mike to dance for her. After Mike seduces Max with one of his trademark erotic routines, she invites him to go back home with her to London, where she plans to stage a dance show which he will direct at the theatre that used to be owned by her ex. But they only have a month to find great dancers, and for Mike to choreograph this revue.

Last Dance draws inspiration from an actual live production called Magic Mike Live that has played in the US and London. Consequently the film, written (like the first two instalments) by Tatum’s producing partner Reid Carolin, very much exudes a let’s-put-on-a-show energy, with Mike and Max facing predictable obstacles as they try to mount this production.

The film could not start more spectacularly, with Mike’s muscular, arousing dance proving hypnotic as he focuses sensually on Max. As is often the case when he directs, Soderbergh both edited and shot Last Dance— using his standard pseudonyms, Mary Ann Bernard and Peter Andrews, respectively — and his skill at sculpting sequences remains impressive. Audiences will not question why Max immediately takes Mike to bed, even though she insists that their trip to London will be purely professional. In one of several instances in which Soderbergh thwarts expectations, Max indeed keeps her hands off Mike, which frustrates him but adds an intriguing tension to their subsequent scenes. Mike wants this show to be a success but he also has feelings for this woman, knowing that he is not in her league either economically or in terms of worldliness.

After that dynamic opening, though, which very much echoes the steamy tenor of previous Magic Mike films, Last Dance downshifts to observe Mike’s attempts to recruit dancers and work out the show logistics. Soderbergh has some fun with Mike’s difficulty in understanding British customs, but the picture lacks the earlier films’ buoyant pleasure. One suspects that this is somewhat intentional: indeed, Last Dance grapples with Mike’s reluctant acceptance of adulthood, which gives the film a wistful air. True to its title, Last Dance plays like this character’s farewell to his youth and, while the series has always touched on Mike’s understanding that he cannot strip forever, the new film noticeably finds its protagonist handing the baton to younger dancers. His moment in the spotlight is over.

As the driven but insecure Max, Hayek Pinault brings vulnerability to this socialite who wants a new lease on life after leaving her husband, only to discover how much control he can still assert over her. She and Tatum have smouldering chemistry, which is amplified by Max’s determination to keep their relationship platonic. It is a shame, then, that plot machinations too often get in the way: ultimately, the preparations for the big production simply are not as interesting as what happens between Mike and Max, resulting in a resolution that feels unearned because it has not been properly developed.

Serving as a potent complement to the opening, Last Dance concludes with one last sexually charged dance from Mike, this time a titivating ballet amidst an indoor rain shower. Tatum has not lost a step as he has gotten older, continuing to deliver stunning moves as he grinds and grooves across the screen. Last Dance does not top what came before, lacking the inspiration, freshness and spark of the earlier pictures. But it feels properly measured in its acknowledgement that the dance eventually ends. Mike bows out gracefully enough.

Production company: Warner Bros

Worldwide distribution: Warner Bros

Producers: Nick Wechsler, Gregory Jacobs, Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin, Peter Kiernan 

Screenplay: Reid Carolin

Cinematography: Peter Andrews

Production design: Pat Campbell 

Editing: Mary Ann Bernard

Main cast: Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinault, Ayub Khan Din, Jemelia George, Juliette Motamed, Ethan Lawrence, Gavin Spokes, Vicki Pepperdine