Sunday, February 12, 2023


Somehow Steven Soderbergh knew a perfect idea for a third Magic Mike movie would be to make it a sexier Step Up movie. After all, star Channing Tatum began his film stardom with the first in that dance-battle series, and his smooth moves have been a feature of the Mikes since their inception. Here’s a series about a frustrated artist. The first film found his dream of making custom furniture an increasingly appealing exit strategy from the world of Miami’s male strip clubs. That was a downbeat but buoyantly portrayed character study. The sequel freed Mike and his friends from the club, and allowed them to stretch out as dancers—albeit still with an edge—in a rambling road trip of self-actualization through male bonding and feminine pleasure. That was a freewheeling and effervescent character comedy, a fine extension of the first while finding a new mode in which to operate. It’s only fitting a third in this shape-shifting series would be different all over again.

Which brings us to Magic Mike’s Last Dance. This threequel is totally different in tone and mood from its predecessors. It’s more romantic, and sparklier with Hollywood artifice, a sweet- and soft-hearted tip of the hat to the same old fashioned put-on-a-show energy that drove a sturdy Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland picture back in the day (or the Step Ups, more recently). Mike is out of the game, gigging as a bartender, when a fabulously wealthy Londoner (Salma Hayek Pinault) hears rumors of his previous life. Impressed by his moves—she gets a slow, sensual private show—she hires him on the spot to choreograph a dance revue for a fabulous theater she’s getting in a divorce from her gazillionaire media mogul husband. Curtain’s up in a month. He’ll have a lot of work to do as he…steps up to the new challenge.

Soderbergh is expert at showing us people at work. It’s why he’s so well-suited to stories of heists and negotiations, attentive as he is to the surfaces of jargon and routine and planning, and the ways they reveal character. Here he gives us some of the casting and rehearsal and stage-directing process. But he’s mostly interested in the ways building this show brings out the best in Mike, in a movie that’s celebrating dance’s ability to make people feel good. There’s less of the male stripper milieu—almost not at all—and more of the razzle-dazzle of the sheer pleasure of bodies in motion. It’s a dance movie! There’s a troupe of talented dancers, characterized only by their signature moves, and assembled to writhe and roll to the rhythms of pounding pop. And it gets plenty sexy by the end, in a dance in the rain with a barely-dressed ballerina and Mike down to his tight briefs, a climax amid climax in a fun final act that’s devoted entirely to the show. It’s the way there that builds the anticipation with fizz and delight, as Soderbergh, with a good eye for the way light dances off faces and bodies can pose across the frame, builds a relaxed and mature movie that’s nonetheless as serious about its lightness as a middle-aged romance can be. That’s work, too.

Tatum and Hayek spark well together, each able to turn on smolder in close-ups and stretch out in long shots, as their characters’ incompatible compatibility pushes and pulls on the possibility of staging this one-night-only event. They’re surrounded by potentially stock characters quickly sketched and well-played with charm and believability—the cranky old butler, the precious teenager daughter, the stuffed-shirt ex-husband, the frumpy city worker, the crinkly old casting director, the feisty young actress. Because the movie cares about these people, and wants to see the power of dance bring them all together for a moment of release, the finale pays off big. I believed they’d all leave smiling because so did I.

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