Magic Mike's Last Dance review: If dry humping was an art, Channing Tatum would be Picasso

Channing Tatum and director Steven Soderbergh have reunited for the third installment in the life of a male stripper known as Magic Mike. CBC's Eli Glasner takes a look to see if Tatum still has the moves to merit a return.

The love story is limp but Tatum has moves to spare in the movie inspired by the real London stage show

Max and Mike (Salma Hayek Pinault and Channing Tatum) share a moment in a scene from Magic Mike's Last Dance.
Max and Mike (Salma Hayek and Channing Tatum) share a moment in a scene from Magic Mike's Last Dance. (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

All right. Cards on the table time. 

I thought 2012's Magic Mike was a surprisingly great film and, dare I say, deep piece of a filmmaking. Under the bump n' grind and baby oil was a straight-eyed look at the casualties of the American Dream. I described it as  "the Scarface of male stripper films." 

For the 2015 sequel Magic Mike XXL, director Steven Soderbergh stepped away from directing. The result was a road movie sort of vibe but a little of the magic had dimmed. 

Now, here we are. Channing Tatum and Soderbergh reunited for the improbable third instalment. When we first catch up with Tatum's character Mike, he's back serving drinks as a bartender in Miami. The pandemic decimated his fledgling furniture business and now he's just another gig worker. But after the event, Maxandra, the wealthy host played by Salma Hayek, learns from a friend there's another service Mike used to provide. 

Maxandra, a wealthy socialite pays for a private dance with Mike, who at the beginning of the film has seemingly retired from the male stripper business.
Wealthy socialite Maxandra pays for a private dance with Mike, who at the beginning of the film has moved on from working as a male stripper. (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

What follows is a brief negotiation. A price is settled on. First, Mike rearranges the furniture and checks the structural integrity of certain load-bearing items. Then, she gets the one-on-one Magic Mike treatment. 

In the world of dance, there are masters. The wit and flair of tap master Gregory Hines. The National Ballet of Canada's Siphesihle November never fails to astound me with his power and grace. 

Then there's Channing Tatum. If dry humping was an art, he would be Picasso. As the evening turns to night, Mike treats Max to a master class in the bump n' grind. They're both fully clothed but it's sensual and seductive, and when it's all over, Max is so moved she invites him to accompany her across the pond to London. 

So now we get to the thrust of the story. Max is a wealthy socialite in the middle of divorce proceedings who hires Mike to put on a show in a theatre she currently controls. Mike, who has been many things in his life, from a carpenter to a stripper, is now promoted into the position of artistic director of a bold new show for London's West End. 

The new film finds Mike hired as the director of a show set in London, featuring talent scouted from across the city. (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Magic Mike's Last Dance opens with a steamy duet and climaxes with a rousing cabaret-style show. It's in the middle when the film focuses on Mike and Max that the magic begins to fade. We're supposed to feel the tension, with Mike living under Max's roof and working for her in a platonic capacity. There's even a bit of Upstairs, Downstairs nonsense as Mike shares the flat with Victor, Max's acerbic butler and Kim, her adopted daughter.

But it all feels so contrived. Gone is the grit of the original, replaced by watered-down romcom cliches. So how did we get here? 

As he told Vulture in a recent interview a few years ago, director Steven Soderbergh had been working on a Broadway show, Magic Mike the early years. In the meantime, Channing Tatum and his dance partner had gone on to create live theatre versions of Magic Mike in both Las Vegas and London. 

One fateful night Soderbergh watched the London revue. You can see a teaser trailer below. There's not much of a story but abs aplenty and more grinding than a Starbucks during the morning rush. Somehow that inspired the director to put the Broadway project on hold and make a movie that is essentially the origin story of the London show. 

Which explains why the love story is so limp. What clearly excites Soderbergh this time is the process. The auditions. The brainstorming. The business backstage. While there's an enjoyable looseness watching Mike discover and gel with his dancers, the third film lacks the camaraderie and memorable characters that made the first two movies a fun hang.

With Tito, Big Dick Richie and others relegated to a quick cameo, the focus shifts to mounting a show framed as a celebration of female pleasure.

Now you can question whether a chorus line of dry-humping he-men is exactly what women want. But as the camera pans across the mostly-female audience hooting and hollering, the fun is infectious. 

And then there's this one dance. 

Channing Tatum and Kylie Shea
In a sequence inspired by the real Magic Mike Live production, Channing Tatum and American ballerina Kylie Shea perform a rain-soaked duet near the film's climax. (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

A version of a water-soaked number transplanted from the live show featuring Channing Tatum and American ballerina Kylie Shea. As the water pours down, Tatum and Shea slip and slide violently across each other and the stage, bringing to mind the raw kinetic dances of Pina Bausch

Then Soderbergh, who directed, edited and filmed Last Dance, starts blending the dancer's movements with earlier moments between Max and Mike — cross-cutting between the bodies smashing together and the characters moving apart.   

Soderbergh used a similar non-linear editing style to great effect for the dinner/bedroom scene between Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in Out of Sight

Here it works so well for a moment that Max and Mike's shallow relationship suddenly seems substantial. The power of dance. 


Eli Glasner

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars and beyond.