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Warner Brothers Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Magic Mike's Last Dance (2023)

How can an entire film industry look at Channing Tatum for nearly 20 years and still not know what to do with him? Gene Kelly couldn’t believe dancing wasn’t as easy for everyone as it was for him; and his resulting arrogance made him a beloved bad boy. Fred Astaire combined the vibe of a disapproving uncle with a litheness and elegance on his feet that has kept him a byword for physical grace. And Mr. Tatum is like your best friend’s goofy little brother, somehow so likable and charming that you smile just thinking about him. There’s very few actors who have ever had his combination of killer physique, relaxing physicality and sense of humor. He should be surprising us with fresh new tricks as often as Kelly and Astaire did. It is devastating to report that instead “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” doesn’t know what to do with him, either.

Director Steven Soderbergh has fallen back on the oldest trope, of putting on a show! Instead of an old barn, it’s a London theater which wronged wife Max (Salma Hayek Pinault) has won in a divorce battle; and she’s brought a once again unemployed Mike (Mr. Tatum) over from Miami after a single smoking hot encounter. The job, which isn’t made clear until arrival, is to recruit dancers from around the city (or Instagram) and turn them into the best strippers in town. The dancers are an interchangeable collection of abs, which is hardly fair on them, but their audition sequence is a charming parade, with Mr. Tatum watching appreciatively in the background. All of this is reminiscent of “Step Up 2: The Streets,” which Mr. Tatum exited after a barnstorming trampoline-themed dance battle to make way for a fresh gang of kids.

But the show coming together plays second fiddle to Mike trying to figure out his place in Max’s household, which consists of a sarcastic butler named Victor (Ayub Khan Din, channeling John Gielgud) and a glasses-wearing novel-writing teenage daughter named Zadie (Jemelia George). The movie enjoys a portentous voice-over by Zadie – in the most unexpected literary homage of the decade, she is clearly named after and modelled on novelist Zadie Smith – about the purpose of dance, economics of love and the happiness of her mother. Ms. Hayek Pinault spends a lot of time gesticulating and talking heatedly about her vision for the show in precise sexual metaphors; Mr. Tatum spends a lot of time observing the English weirdos suddenly around him in quiet frustration; and none of this is as much fun as Matthew McConaughey and the mirror in “Magic Mike” or any random 30 seconds of “Magic Mike XXL.” It’s not a bad movie, but the point of the trilogy has twisted. The first one was whether a stripper can lean out of the lifestyle. The second was whether a jovial gang of friends can lean into the lifestyle. This one is whether an American can make anyone in London just relax, even a little bit. The ludicrous scene on the top deck of a 12 bus answers that question in very American fashion, but as the hook for a raucous evening?

If Mr. Soderbergh had kept the camera still while all the pelvic thrusting was going on, things might have been much more fun, but instead he overdoes the cross-cutting in the editing, and unforgivably spoils the big finale between Mr. Tatum and a ballerina (Kylie Shea). The rainstorm set even involves Mr. Tatum swinging twice around a lamppost. It could have been an adorable homage to Kelly, which no one deserves to do more than Mr. Tatum. And somehow they blew it. Again. How does this keep happening?

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