“Toothless” probably isn’t the first word “Magic Mike” fans want to associate with Channing Tatum’s aging exotic dancer series, but there’s no denying the female-targeting franchise has dulled its bite over the past decade. If the Walt Disney Co. had made a movie about male strippers, it might look something like “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” a soft, in-name-only sequel to the 2012 hit, whose title is about as convincing as reports of director Steven Soderbergh’s retirement.
Tatum’s still got it, and he ain’t about to retire, even if his semi-autobiographical hero, Mike Lane, has lost his magic and seems ready to hang up his thong. Meanwhile, gone are all the other gorgeous hunks who road-tripped with him in “Magic Mike XXL” — unless you count a lo-res video conference with Ken, Tarzan and two other old friends when Mike gets to London. Why London? That’s where this wish-fulfillment scenario takes place, after Magic Mike gives his first dance to small-time actor turned big-time media mogul’s wife Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek).
Back in 2012, Tatum and writing buddy Reid Carolin had the clever idea of referencing the financial crisis in “Magic Mike’s” opening minutes. That gave the film real-world, working-class cred. But trying to repeat the same trick 11 years later, implying that Mike’s furniture business went bust during the pandemic and now he’s fallen on tough times, is just plain lazy. The same goes for the rest of this new script, which plays more like a made-for-cable backstage musical than a gender-swapped “Pretty Woman” fantasy.
“Last Dance” opens with Maxandra’s teenage daughter Zadie (Jemelia George) narrating some kind of dissertation on the significance of dance through human history, as if anyone needed convincing. If this oddly self-justifying series needs to prove anything, it’s not the importance of dance, but the non-importance of pants. Like, why is there so little skin in an R-rated “Magic Mike” sequel?
Maxandra meets Mike tending bar at a fundraising event in Florida, and after all the other guests go home, she propositions him to give her a $6,000 striptease. It’s a transformative moment for the criminally unhappy trophy wife, who’s recently been cheated on by her billionaire husband, Roger Rattigan (Alan Cox). Whether out of revenge or some abstract need to reclaim her selfhood, Max invites Mike to accompany her back to London, where she’s negotiated control of the Rattigan — the very theater where she once walked the boards, and from which Roger plucked her to be his gilded-cage bride some 18 years earlier.
In the two previous movies, part of Mike’s appeal — apart from the bod, of course — was the way that, beneath the character’s dumb exterior, he possessed a certain intuition about what women want. Here, he comes across as a bona fide imbecile, following Max halfway around the world with no clue as to what she has in mind.
They’re going to put on a show, of course! Max’s plan is to scrap “Isabel Ascendant,” the retrograde Noël Coward-ly play currently in residence there (Max calls it “the same old ‘will she marry for love or money’ bullshit”) and present a one-night-only strip-show spectacular in its place. Her new philosophy: “A woman can have whatever she wants whenever she wants.” Unless of course that woman is watching “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” in which case, she can only count on getting a fraction of what she wants, wrapped in platitudes about empowerment and consent.
Max will make Mike its director — although she’s clearly the one calling all the shots, from casting to creative decisions, while Mike stands around looking dazed. When Max introduces him to “Isabel” star Hannah (Juliette Motamed) and the Rattigan theater crew, all this handsome stud can muster is a monosyllabic “Sup?” He’s not accustomed to having a butler (Ayub Khan Din) and being treated to high-end shopping sprees, including a quick visit to Liberty, the famous London department store.
Here’s the thing about Soderbergh: The genre-crossing helmer has made a handful of the most erotic movies of all time, including “Out of Sight” and “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” But this series always felt like a stretch for his skill set. He shoots and edits the stage numbers strangely, has bizarre instincts when it comes to music, and doesn’t know how to accentuate the assets of the various other dancers, who barely register as characters here.
When Mike arrives in London, instead of giving audiences a vicarious wide-eyed tour of the town, Soderbergh (who lenses under the pseudonym Peter Andrews and edits as Mary Ann Bernard) features a montage of tacky souvenir stands — close-ups that didn’t even require a trip overseas. And when he goes shopping at Liberty, there’s zero sense that he understands the obvious: that dressing Tatum could be every bit as sexy as undressing him. In these respects, Netflix’s tawdry “365 Days” seems to have a better sense of its target audience, up to and including how to present the male body.
So, when the grand finale comes, Max sits down to watch “Isabel Descending Revelation,” and the male revue is anything but revealing, as pro forma as her supposed romance with Mike. She brings Zadie along, but orders the butler to cover her daughter’s eyes — not that she’d witness anything racier than a teenager might see on TikTok. Mike has spent the whole movie prepping his dancers for the full monty, while coyly suggesting he has no plans to perform. But if you think you’ve seen his last dance, there’s a bridge in London I’d like to sell you.