Magic Mike’s Last Dance – Film Review

Magic Mike’s Last Dance – Film Review
by Brian Merriman

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Reid Carolan
Stars: Salma Hayek, Channing Tatum, Caitlin Gerard

Reid Carolan’s screenplay will not leave you on the edge of your seat, because it is peppered with so many cliches of old ‘let’s do a show’ movies made famous decades ago, by formulaic,  Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. There’s a show to be done and obstacles in the way, in the stereotypes of bureaucrats and a contentious divorce settlement. The plot is thinner than the material of the endless shirts that are ripped off throughout. We get more ‘pelvic thrusts’ than the ‘Time Warp’ and some luxurious location shots, as yet another US film heads, despite the heroine’s Latin origins, to the UK for ‘depth and substance’.

The key point of Carolan’s screenplay, no matter how dressed up, is that a woman can only be truly liberated by a man. No one gets away with that misogynistic nonsense these days, so we have a narration throughout, that seems to be an afterthought inserted to counter this, by insisting on a feminist context which doesn’t exist in the script.

Mike, the ripped Channing Tatum (the real-life inspiration of the story) proves there is no age barrier (at 42!) to beauty. His physique ripples and his hipwork looks 360 degrees. He is a fine dancer. He encounters the rich, spoiled Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek), a divorcee, in therapy and neurotic, with an ‘Ab Fab’ lifestyle of fickle friends and a super-intelligent daughter Hannah (Juliette Motamed). We learn three basic facts about Mike throughout; he was a stripper years ago, is bad in relationships and is broke! You need to see the previous iterations of this story to know more about his background. Mike, like most of the characters, has no visible backstory in this latest treatment.

The beautifully delivered narrative repeats the show is about ’empowering women’. No matter how many times that is repeated – it is not. Neither men nor women come out of it with any great depth, substance or quality. They are purely the physical, the privileged, the talented, and the exploited.

Twelve beautiful ripped and talented men (especially in the bus routine), some classically trained, decide to become lap dancers/strippers on the spur of the moment. Why? Mike warns them what it is like to appear naked in front of repressed middle-aged women – they never do. Not even a ‘Full Monty’ fluorescent obliterated finale is delivered.

The strong, male dancers have no backstories whatsoever. They are talented, very buffed, very agile and acrobatic shirt rippers. There are some snippets of solo performances which are excellent, too short and don’t fully transfer into the ensemble work – you would long for Ashley Banjo’s ‘Diversity’ to electrify the stage.  It’s such a huge lost opportunity to explore this world and what made these diverse dancers suddenly jump from the stage and street, to want to do this sexual work. That might make a great film, but lap dancing and partial stripping are as far as it goes. The endless, sweatless, gyrating and shirt ripping to the screams of the newly ‘liberated’ privileged women, is their ultimate achievement.

Back to the plot. There is a show to be done. The classic show that is packing out the Ratigan Theatre needs a makeover. We don’t know what it is or why?  Handsome Mike, who has never created a show as a writer, director or choreographer, has four weeks to do it, while also handling impulsive Max’s ideas of ‘freedom in dance’ and blending all of this opaque concept into a groundbreaking performance. Mike has to do on stage what writer Carolan and Director Soderberg fail to do on screen.

Mike is a nice, quiet guy. He is dominated by Max, her temperament and money. He tries to turn her chaotic concepts into a finale as he dips into ‘Singing In The Rain’ in a really well-executed final duet, that would leave Gene Kelly blushing. Choreographed by Luke Broadlick, it is very good and raunchy with Christie-Leigh Emby (Ballet dancer) shining.

The spoken underscore narrative on ‘dance, love and trust’ tries hard to intellectualise the titillation that is all that is really at the centre of this movie. It is more about svelte pecs and abs. The weird concept of ‘permission’ as middle-aged and older women are lap danced to the frenzied screams of the women in the audience not chosen for the treat doesn’t cut it. Is it permission or exploitation?

Inevitably, Roger’s wife (Max) is cobbled by pre-nup clauses coming back to bite her, and as such, as a woman, she ‘fails’ with only hero Mike to save her. There are some nice cameos to support the story, especially Victor the butler (Ayub Khan Din).

Max is the ‘Queen of first act’ – she never finishes the play in her life. The same can be said of co-producer Carolan’s thin screenplay. Throughout the film, he and Soldrberg pursue an ending to the show – which is a challenge with so many one-dimensional characters and contexts. The final narration claims an ending far deeper than the plot rolled out on screen. That being said, there will be many who will rightly enjoy the fit and agile Tatum, the talented dance ensemble, the routines, the ripped male physiques, the lush locations and the very familiar stereotypes and who am I to steer anyone away from enjoyment?

Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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