DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. It's been more than a decade since Channing Tatum first played a Florida stripper in the movie "Magic Mike," directed by Steven Soderbergh. Now, there's a third movie in the series titled "Magic Mike's Last Dance." It brings Mike to London and features Salma Hayek Pinault as his new boss and love interest. Our film critic Justin Chang has this review.
JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: Given how little sex or sensuality there is in mainstream American cinema these days, it's no surprise that the "Magic Mike" movies have been so popular. The first "Magic Mike," directed by Steven Soderbergh in 2012, was an irresistible showcase for Channing Tatum and his thong-and-dance routine. Though, it was also a sharp, realistic portrait of cash-strapped workers getting by in post-recession Florida. Three years later, the director Gregory Jacobs leaned into the erotic spectacle of it all with the exuberant "Magic Mike XXL," placing women's desires front and center in a way that made even the first movie look staid.
"Magic Mike's Last Dance," which Soderbergh directed from a script by Reid Carolin, isn't nearly as sexy or as deliriously entertaining as its predecessors or, I assume, as the "Magic Mike Live" shows that have sprung up in recent years. Still, the new movie does begin with one doozy of a seduction. Mike, his stripping days long behind him, is now working part-time as a bartender in Miami. One evening, he finds himself mixing a drink for a wealthy London-based socialite named Maxandra Mendoza, played with a nice mix of vulnerability and steel by Salma Hayek Pinault. Max is going through a very messy divorce. And she could use a little distraction. When she finds out from a mutual acquaintance named Kim what Mike used to do for a living, she asks how much it would cost for him to give her a private dance.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAGIC MIKE'S LAST DANCE")
CHANNING TATUM: (As Mike) Nice to meet you.
SALMA HAYEK: (As Maxandra) So let's say if you were to do this just, like, one last time, how much would something like that go for?
TATUM: (As Mike) How much would something like that go for? Sixty thousand, maybe.
HAYEK: (As Maxandra) Sixty thousand dollars?
TATUM: (As Mike) Yeah. Yeah, 60. Let's call it 60.
HAYEK: (As Maxandra) What the [expletive] do you do? She said it was a silly dance.
TATUM: (As Mike) Who said that? Kim said that, it was silly?
HAYEK: (As Maxandra) Yeah, she said it was a silly dance, but that it would get my mind off of things. And if she's right, I'm willing to pay six.
TATUM: (As Mike) What? You're serious right now? You're going to pay me $6,000 to give you a dance?
HAYEK: (As Maxandra) Yeah, but no happy endings.
CHANG: And so Mike gives her what she asks for, starting with a lap dance and building to what looks like an elaborate home gymnastics routine. There's a funny bit beforehand where he tests out the furniture to make sure it can support the weight of his acrobatics. The dance scene is gorgeous and hypnotic. And it whets your appetite for more. But then the movie takes a surprising turn. Max, impressed by the passion and artistry of Mike's dancing, asks him to come back to London with her. There, he'll take over as director of a play at the theater that she now owns as part of her separation agreement.
The play is a dreary-looking period drama called "Isabel Ascendant." And Max thinks it needs a massive contemporary overhaul, with more heat and more urgency and, yes, an ensemble of male strippers. And so she and Mike begin recruiting the best and hottest dancers they can find, none of whom have ever stripped in public before. Though, they're game enough to give it a try. "Magic Mike's Last Dance" has an infectious let's-put-on-a-show energy, plus some wry family drama courtesy of Jemelia George as Max's sarcastic teenage daughter. Meanwhile, as Max's divorce proceedings continue, her relationship with Mike becomes its own complication.
The possibility of long-term romance didn't really factor into the first two "Magic Mike" movies, which were all about fleeting transactional encounters. I guess that makes "Magic Mike's Last Dance" the more mature, thoughtful entertainment. And I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing. Don't get me wrong, Tatum and Hayek Pinault have an on-screen chemistry that's both romantic and collaborative. Their characters' creative back-and-forth becomes a vision of gender parity in action. Max wants to thrill her play's female audience, but she needs Mike's smarts and expertise to do it.
Still, there's something a little too dutiful and even dull about the way the characters' mutual attraction ultimately plays out. Soderbergh has always liked to subvert expectations. And here, he seems bent on short-circuiting a lot of the pleasures we've come to expect from the "Magic Mike" movies. The dancing and the stripping feel tamer this time around. We don't really get to know the dancers as characters. And I missed the raunchy male camaraderie of Mike's old stripper buddies, played by actors like Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello, who appear in just one brief scene. At the same time, there's something fitting about how muted and even melancholy this movie feels. As the title suggests, "Magic Mike's Last Dance" is about a guy bidding farewell to his calling and passing the baton to the next generation. Stripping was never his dream job, but it was good for him while it lasted - and also for us.
BIANCULLI: Justin Chang is film critic for the LA Times. He reviewed "Magic Mike's Last Dance."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IâLL NEVER FALL IN LOVE AGAIN")
DIONNE WARWICK: (Singing) What do you get when you fall in love? A guy with a pin to burst your bubble.
BIANCULLI: On Monday's show, we remember composer and arranger Burt Bacharach, who died Wednesday at the age of 94. His collaborations with lyricist Hal David during the 1960s included many hits sung by Dionne Warwick, including "Anyone Who Had A Heart," "Walk On By" and "I Say A Little Prayer." They also wrote "The Look Of Love," "This Guy's In Love With You" and many other songs. We'll listen to our interviews with Bacharach and David and with Bacharach and Elvis Costello, who also collaborated with him. I hope you can join us. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IâLL NEVER FALL IN LOVE AGAIN")
WARWICK: (Singing) Don't tell me what's it all about 'cause I've been there. And I'm glad I'm out, out of those chains, those chains that bind you. That is why I'm here to remind you. What do you get when you fall in love?
(SOUNDBITE OF BJ THOMAS SONG, "RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN' ON MY HEAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.