Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum return for the threequel
Whoever said, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” was obviously onto something. Sometimes too a trilogy is best when it’s a duology. The eight-years-in-the-making third — and most likely last — entry in the Steven Soderbergh-produced, Channing Tatum-starring Magic Mike series, Magic Mike’s Last Chance, more than proves that particular point. Despite Soderbergh’s typical kinetic direction of a handful of dance sequences, Tatum’s comic timing, and the addition of Salma Hayek Pinault as Mike’s onetime lover and patron, Magic Mike’s Last Chance falls short of capturing its predecessor’s singular melding of dance and music, running time to entertainment value, and recentering of the female gaze over a typically male one.
There’s certainly no lack of effort, though, in trying to duplicate the successes of the sequel’s predecessors. Between all the bumping-and-grinding, athletic acrobatics, and shedloads of sweat expended to bring Magic Mike’s Last Chance to the big screen, it’s obviously been another labor of love for Soderbergh (Traffic, Out of Sight, The Limey), Tatum (whose pre-acting dancing life inspired the first film), and returning screenwriter Reid Carolin. But for love or money, there still has to be an in-film rationale for bringing the title character back for one last go-around on the main stage. Here, alas, that rationale’s about as thin and underdeveloped as they come.
When we catch up to Mike, he’s in a bad, no-good, terrible place: The dream of becoming a self-made man and starting his own business hand-crafting furniture has gone the way of one too many small businesses affected by the recent (some would argue still ongoing) pandemic. Losing it all, apparently including any personal relationships, Mike has returned to what he does second- or third-best, bartending as part of a catering crew to make ends meet in the middle. He’s also prone to staring wistfully into the Pacific Ocean, the result of working a gig at the expansive manse of a wealthy European woman, Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault).
Recognized at the charity function by another attendee for rocking her pre-marriage world at a bachelorette party, Mike pretends she’s confused him with someone else before finally giving in and admitting he’s the onetime, longtime stripper. That, in turn, leads to a recommendation by said attendee to Maxandra, a woman not on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but on the verge of a lengthy, costly divorce to a middle-aged mama’s boy, Roger Rattigan (Alan Cox). She needs a little spark in her life and Magic Mike’s the stripper extraordinaire to provide the experience for her.
World suitably rocked after a night of mostly clothed acrobatics, Max hits on the credulity-stretching idea of bringing Mike back with her to London, not as her latest (man) boy-toy, but as the new director of a theatrical space given to her as part of the ongoing settlement talks between her lawyers and Roger’s. Together, they fly to London on Max’s private jet, negotiating the details of their deal on-route to Max’s London and her townhouse. Everything, of course, is up for grabs in a purely transactional, capitalistic economy, though to Max’s credit, she decides to keep their relationship strictly professional at least until the expiration of the deal itself.
It’s one of those make-or-break, buy in or step out plot developments that every member of the audience has to decide works for them (or not). If not, then the remainder of Magic Mike’s Last Chance will be nothing short of an endurance test. If so, then well, it’s a slightly better experience overall as a newly reinvigorated Max fires the current theatrical director, replaces him with Mike, and lets Mike refashion an otherwise stodgy Victorian play, “Isabel Ascendant,” into part play, part musical revue, the latter filled with local dance talent.
As another in a “let’s put on a musical” entry, obstacles, personal and professional, will present themselves at periodic intervals, though most of them are easily surmountable (right up to the point where they’re not). Max’s daughter, Zadie (Jemelia George), also plays a plot-related role, first as an offscreen narrator reading a term paper about the sociological, anthropological, and cultural history of dance, second as a critical voice in Max’s ear. Max’s valet, driver, and part-time therapist, Victor (Ayub Khan Din), also plays a role, though mostly as well-timed, deadpan comic relief.
The voice-over narration doesn’t really work, but credit to Soderbergh and Carolin for at least trying something new and different this time around. The dance sequences also provide enough variety to keep audiences enthralled, though the overloud cheering piped into theater speakers and the sheer repetitiveness of some of the sequences can dampen some of that enthusiasm. Outside of the opening dance/seduction scene between Mike and Max (repeated later unnecessarily via montage) and the final scene, a bravura set piece involving several truck fulls of water (dancing, yes, singing, no), Tatum’s title character settles somewhat uncomfortably into observer mode, dropping the occasional truth bomb (i.e., dance as seduction/courtship) as the dancers onstage rehearse for the big night, a one-night and one-night only premiere meant to rock London’s theatrical establishment from its backward, prudish attitudes.
Magic Mike’s Last Chance opens theatrically on Friday, February 10th.