Magic Mike’s Last Dance review: In God we thrust

To bare it all, to dare to dream; such were the modest aspirations of Channing Tatum’s “Magic” Mike Lane when it all began. And what the inaugural film offered in 2012 was a form of cinematic enchantment: a gritty, mischievous novelty centered around Florida men shedding their inhibitions for a living, presented with the free-spirited finesse of Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh.

With Soderbergh’s absence in its energetically chaotic 2015 sequel, much of the original fervor seemed to fade. Now, both he and Tatum have returned — albeit with the notable absence of most other key cast members from the first installment, save for one fleeting Zoom cameo — for Last Dance (set to hit theaters this Friday), an introspective and unhurried swan song that still glimpses the initial film’s forward-thrusting allure.

At 40, Mike is no longer gyrating for cash, yet he retains the visage of a striking Easter Island sculpture and a sculpted physique reminiscent of chiseled glass. To supplement the income from his struggling custom furniture business, he takes on odd jobs like tending bar at lavish charity events hosted by Miami’s elite, leading to an encounter with the extravagantly named Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek), recently separated from her media-mogul spouse and yearning to rediscover her femininity.

Word of Mike’s previous profession reaches Maxandra’s ears, prompting her to entice him out of retirement for a swift private rendezvous in her home. What unfolds is a signature spectacle of the franchise: a display so daring and tantalizing, it appears to defy the laws of physics themselves. (How can a body in motion remain in such motion?)

Magic Mike's Last Dance

Mike’s mesmerizing lap dance serves as a catalyst, reigniting Maxandra’s zest for life. Unable to let go of such euphoria, she impulsively extends an invitation for Mike to join her in London, not as a romantic partner, but as a strategic ally. Her proposal? Entrust him with revitalizing an old West End theater, dormant under her ex-husband’s care, with his magnetic American charm.

Soderbergh, known for his polished blockbusters like Erin Brockovich and the Ocean’s series, has shifted towards smaller, more whimsical projects in recent years. From the NASCAR heist thriller Logan Lucky to the stylized crime ensemble No Sudden Move, and the aimlessly delightful boat ride in Let Them All Talk, his repertoire reflects a penchant for indie aesthetics infused with star-studded casts.

In line with his previous works, Last Dance exudes an intimate, almost claustrophobic ambiance, reminiscent of a pandemic-era creation. With a restricted cast and a script that unfolds leisurely, Soderbergh’s direction seamlessly oscillates between muted realism and weightless fantasy. Amidst the narrative, an inspired city bus scene reminiscent of a French New Wave musical and a rain-soaked, forbidden-dance finale add layers of cinematic allure.

Adding to the film’s eclectic charm is an archly self-aware voiceover by Maxandra’s skeptical teenage daughter, who frames the narrative as a modern allegory of man versus capitalism. Alongside her, the subtly profane house butler, portrayed by veteran British character actor Ayub Khan-Din, offers a comic foil reminiscent of The Parent Trap.

However, Last Dance leaves much to the imagination regarding its central characters. Who is Maxandra beyond her wealth and beauty? What does Mike, with his enigmatic persona, truly seek in middle age? Despite these ambiguities, the film delivers the expected allure, culminating in a dazzling Hollywood finale illuminated by strobe lights.

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