Back in 2012, Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” saw Channing Tatum glide onto stage for the first time as Mike Lane, a suave stripper with a heart of gold. After reprising the role in 2015’s “Magic Mike XXL,” Tatum returns to the big screen as the titular protagonist for the final time in the aptly named “Magic Mike’s Last Dance.”
Though occasionally offering an unexpected insight on flipped gender roles and the politics of intimacy, at its core, the “Magic Mike” franchise centers on desire — its pleasures, its challenges and, ultimately, its fulfillment. Unfortunately, rather than playing into this narrative with comedic aplomb, the trilogy’s third and final installment instead leaves much to be desired.
The film opens with a series of closed doors for Mike, who, in addition to quitting his exorbitant stripping lifestyle, has lost his furniture business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working a bartending gig at a charity fundraiser, Mike encounters wealthy, soon-to-be-divorcée Maxandra “Max” Mendoza (Salma Hayek), who quickly discovers his past profession. What ensues is a night charged with such intense, impressively acrobatic passion that Max convinces Mike to fly to London and employ his talents to assist in the restoration of a historic theater.
Fueled by titillating, if not gratuitous, choreography, Mike and Max’s initial exchanges exhibit promising attraction — at least in the physical sense. However, as “Last Dance” progresses, the two share all the sizzling chemistry of a pile of damp kindling.
To be sure, no viewer is expecting the comedy-drama to deliver a fervent romance between two star-crossed lovers. That said, vapid banter, the occasional lap dance and a handful of half-hearted arguments provide a particularly weak foundation for the duo’s relationship — a budding romance that strives and fails to intrigue as the film’s driving plot device.
The lovers’ shortage of chemistry encapsulates the film’s severely underdeveloped characterization. Tatum navigates Mike’s midlife crisis with mild charisma, but his himbo persona ultimately proves one-dimensional, a disappointingly predictable trend carried over from the first two installments.
Max suffers similarly from sloppy writing; the contours of her character are little mapped out beyond being rich, behaving like a frequently uninvolved parent and seeking vengeance on her husband (Alan Cox). Though Max is championed as a figure of female empowerment, her lack of development also speaks to a larger issue woven into the fabric of “Last Dance.”
Perhaps in an attempt to make greater progressive strides than its predecessors, the film strives to form a nuanced take on gendered power dynamics. To renovate the London theater, Mike and Max reimagine “Isabel Ascendant,” transforming the Regency-era play about a young woman constrained by marriage into a steamy production that prioritizes women’s desires. And yet, apart from Max, the film fails to significantly spotlight the interactions between female characters and male dancers, pushing women and their actual desires to the background of the conversation.
“Last Dance” awkwardly veers into this progressive territory in more ways than one. Distracting voice overs from Zadie (Jemelia George), Max’s teenage daughter, are intermittently dispersed throughout the film. Potentially intended to put the film in line with a younger generation’s perspective, these observations on the transcendent powers of dance and love read more like a convoluted Twitter thread than insightful life lessons.
Not even the film’s dance sequences counteract its clumsy missteps. With the iconic squad of stripper comrades from the franchise’s previous installments only making an appearance on Zoom, Mike assembles a new crew in England, each of whom sports a six-pack, but not a first name. Watching these dancers thrust and grind in the theater feels oddly impersonal, even to the extent that, by the time Mike does participate in his final dance — a rain-soaked number with professional ballerina Kylie Shea — the entertainment factor has completely fizzled out.
Falling vastly short of the sensual allure implied by its title, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” stumbles on multiple accounts, proving that all dances come to an end — some more gracefully than others.