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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Magic Mike's Last Dance: Review

Prolific former stripper Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) is down on his luck. After his innovative furniture business became a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, Mike now works as a bartender for a run-of-the-mill catering company. A chance encounter with wealthy divorcee Maxandra (Salma Hayek Pinault) sparks Mike to rediscover his dancing glory days, which inspires both to pursue an ambitious creative venture in Magic Mike's Last Dance.

For many movie fans, the Magic Mike series receives little recognition for its artistic merits. I understand it's easy for many to write off a franchise about male strippers as mindless entertainment. Yet, in reality, these films quietly showcase a meaningful introspective streak inside their provocative premises.

2012's Magic Mike deconstructs stripping as another occupational cog in our capitalist society. While nights of partying accented by electric dance moves and crumpled-up cash tips temporarily sedate Mike into a blissful state, Magic Mike ultimately confronts how the business chews up and spits out lost dreamers searching for a greater sense of purpose. The film depicts Mike's journey with a well-articulated dramatic perspective, expressively capturing the stripping world's intoxicating highs and sobering lows.

2015's Magic Mike XXL finds Mike and his stripping troupe in a decidedly different place. Years after changing his career field, Mike and his beloved former colleagues venture on a road trip representative of a final odyssey in their collective stripping experiences. The film boasts an affectionately relaxed approach, basking in an infectious spirit of camaraderie and joy as the characters perform their acts for their sheer love of the experience. Where many road trip movies define themselves in hackneyed sentiments, XXL possesses a genuine heart and naturalism that significantly elevates its straightforward premise.

I really admire the Magic Mike films for what they bring to the table. Both feature moxie and electric technical craft as they tackle vastly different thematic ideas through their deceptively intelligent lenses. Unfortunately, there's a weird dismissive malaise surrounding the franchise, likely stemming from jaded audiences who never gave the films a chance in the first place. This fact ties into one quality about art I always want to implore with this column - never judge a book by its cover.

Eight years after the release of XXL, Magic Mike's Last Dance demystifies stripping in a fascinating new light. After an emotionally-charged first encounter, Maxandra and Mike team up to deliver a captivating play on the prestigious stage of an old London theater. The results extend the franchise's brazen artistry as the creative team conjures another showstopping spectacle.

Last Dance seamlessly follows the Magic Mike lineage by defining its own perceptive voice. Whereas its predecessors wrestled with the business and camaraderie behind Mike's free-spirited performances, this third entry deconstructs the underlying artistry of his dancing act. Placing Mike under the glowing spotlight of a theatrical stage is a novel concept from screenwriter Reid Carolin and director Steven Soderbergh - both of whom continue to be creative mainstays of the franchise along with star Channing Tatum.

Soderbergh has always been a favorite director of mine; he possesses a rare, chameleon-like skillset as he effortlessly traverses through different genres (the Ocean's Trilogy, Traffic and Side Effects are a few examples). With Last Dance, Soderbergh paints his narrative on a lavish scale. He leans into the atmospheric lighting and expressive choreography of a captivating theatrical production, with his swerving yet precise camera movements creating controlled chaos within each well-produced dance number. The new setting of the film also leads to a natural evolution for the series. While the numbers remain steamy in their sensuality, Soderbergh and company focus more on conjuring romantic intimacy that connects naturally with Mike's new priorities as a 40-year-old man. It's refreshing to see a series embracing a sense of maturation as it ages.

The Magic Mike films remain an excellent vehicle for Tatum's movie star talents. Tatum often does not get enough credit for his nuanced acting abilities. Underneath his chiseled image lies a performer with undeniable charisma and gravitas - skills that the actor utilizes effectively to convey Mike as a lovable dreamer wrestling with his place in the world. The inclusion of Salma Hayek Pinault as Maxandra provides additional textures to the film. Hayek Pinault commands the screen with infectious presence as Maxandra begins to find herself in the aftermath of a toxic relationship. Together, the pair form a dynamic rapport onscreen, connecting in an achingly vulnerable manner that most mainstream features fail to replicate.

As I mentioned earlier, Magic Mike's Last Dance offers more substance than one may expect. Carolin's screenplay eschews conventions at every turn, shying away from Hollywood contrivances in favor of an approach that cleverly deconstructs elements of its straightforward premise. The narrative threads of two down-and-out people connecting over a big project and a former professional rediscovering their craft are not wholly unique, but Carolin's subversive winks maintain an eye for grounded realism over superficial developments.

Additionally, the stage show platform of Last Dance allows for the franchise's most ambitious commentary to date. Carolin zeroes in on Mike's dancing act as an artistic medium, seeing his gyrating swivels and smooth body movements as vehicles for personal expression in its most unfiltered state.

With this third entry focusing more on romance over lust, Carolin reflects on the humanity deeply embedded within Mike's act and artistic projects as a whole. The stage play Mike and Maxandra produce is naturally woven from the fabric of their journeys, showing how art at its core is a medium to extenuate humanity and thoughtful self-reflection. It's an ingenious concept, and while moments of narration belabor the film's points, Last Dance conjures its ideals in a deeply resonant light.

There are also some meta undertones in how this approach connects to Tatum's pursuits with the Magic Mike franchise. Like with Mike and Maxandra's stage show, crowds of moviegoers may boo and dismiss the trilogy at every turn, but Tatum unabashedly embraces how these films allow him to explore his own evolution in the entertainment industry after humble beginnings as a male dancer.

Magic Mike's Last Dance caps off its trilogy with remarkably assured results. In a climate where franchises embrace a copy-and-paste formula, the daring evolution of this series has been a welcomed breath of fresh air for the industry. I will not be shocked when these films begin to be rediscovered with more positivity from critics and audiences alike in the near future.

Magic Mike's Last Dance is now playing in theaters.


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