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Magic Mike’s Last Dance Starts Off Steamy But Stumbles Toward the Finish

Fantastic for him but terrible for us, 10 years in Channing Tatum time is the equivalent of 2 years for normal humans. In Magic Mike’s Last Dance—the third movie in the Magic Mike series, a franchise that was never intended to be a franchise, which is just part of its ramshackle appeal—his face still has the scrubbed-clean mischievousness of a sailor on shore leave, and his physique shows no sign of creakiness or insidious flab. For Tatum, it may as well be 2012, the year of the first Magic Mike movie, directed, as this new one is, by Steven Soderbergh and written by Reid Carolin.

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But no matter how little Tatum has changed, the world around him has perhaps changed too much. In Magic Mike, Tatum induced fainting spells the world over as Mike Lane, a male stripper—or, er, male entertainer—and sometime construction worker whose dream was to start a custom furniture company. Yet Magic Mike’s Last Dance only partially rekindles the spark of the earlier movie, or that of its rambunctious sequel, Magic Mike XXL (directed by Gregory Jacobs but written by Carolin). One problem may be that the opening scene of Last Dance is so blazingly amorous the rest of the movie can’t hope to measure up—after that first 20 minutes or so, the picture has the clumsiness of a muffed backflip, and the letdown is hard to get over.

Read more: Why Aren’t Movies Sexy Anymore?

That’s especially disappointing considering that Magic Mike’s Last Dance offers glimpses, here and there, of everything we could wish for. For one thing, it matches Tatum with Salma Hayek, a performer whose comic timing—and movie-star radiance—may be even greater than his. Hayek plays the smart, saucy socialite Maxandra Mendoza, a woman who clearly keeps her wits about her. But even the most self-determined among us can be thrown by major life changes, and Max, who has learned that her husband is cheating on her, may be headed toward a tricky divorce. While hosting a charity event at her luxe Florida pad, she meets Tatum’s Mike, who’s in a transitional slump himself. He’s long retired from dancing, but the furniture business he’d built from scratch has gone belly-up with the pandemic. Now he’s bartending to make ends meet, and he almost doesn’t have the spirit to flirt, even with a smoldering, raven-haired beauty draped in fuchsia chiffon.

It’s Max who puts the moves on Mike, in a manner of speaking: one of her party guests has recognized him from his old line of work, and seeking temporary relief from her lousy mood, she tries to commission him for a private dance. He balks at first, but eventually succumbs—in a witty preamble to the performance, he moves flower vases off tables for safety’s sake, and shifts chairs around the room for use as props later. And as it turns out, Mike hasn’t lost his moves, and Max responds accordingly, becoming part of the dance rather than just an intoxicated observer: after a few sultry, hesitant moments of exploration, they’re like sine waves finding a simpatico groove.

The two end up in bed, and though Max isn’t looking for anything permanent, it seems her evening with Mike has renewed her spirit. She invites him to come to London with her, offering him a job whose details she at first refuses to reveal. They board her private jet, where they drink champagne together; she’s dressed in the first of a number of smashing silky PJ outfits, this one complete with a fetching little eye mask, which she perches atop her head like a pair of aviator goggles.

So far, so good—great, in fact. It turns out that Max wants other women to feel as she does, to take control of their lives and seek the things they really want. To that end, she wants Mike to direct a show, which will be mounted in the London theater that will supposedly belong to her once the divorce is final. And while all of this sounds like fun, it’s at this point that the movie starts to stumble. Max has a young teenage daughter, Zadie (Jemelia George), who also, for not fully explicable reasons, narrates the movie. She takes an immediate dislike to the middle-aged hottie who has taken up residence in their tony London house, though eventually he somehow wins her over—the movie elides the details of how they end up finding accord. Also mysterious is the fact that Max insists on keeping her relationship with Mike platonic, and it’s not clear whether he cares or not—until it’s revealed that he does.

Meanwhile, he and Max assemble a troupe of exquisite performers, some from the street and some classically trained; Mike shows them the way of the stripper, with the goal of designing a show that will put the women in the audience—as well as, of course, some of the men—in touch with their deepest desires. The movie is driven by some blurry logic about how important it is for women to demand what they want—as opposed to just succumbing to the fantasy offered by beautiful, raunchy, funny performers, which is the kind of bliss the earlier movies offered so unapologetically.

Instead, Magic Mike’s Last Dance has to be a movie about ideas, and they’re a mood killer. Channing’s Mike, though he keeps claiming he’s retired from gyrating, does dance, beautifully—though the movie’s finale is a pas de deux that, while beautifully choreographed and performed, takes place in a faux rainstorm. The performers end up looking droopy and bedraggled by the end.

Worst of all, for reasons that make no sense in the context of her character or the movie, Max loses her own nerve when it comes to standing up for what she wants. This is the worst thing you can do to Hayek, a performer who’s game for anything—to turn her into a wilted flower is a disservice to humanity. In an early scene, one in which she brings Mike to a restaurant to meet some of her society friends, she appears in a smashing halter gown patterned with Pucci-like swirls. “You look incredibly expensive,” Mike says admiringly. “You have no idea,” she purrs back. At this point in Magic Mike’s Last Dance, you still believe these two are going to embark on a fantastic, flirtatious adventure—in the restaurant, they’re lit gorgeously, as if Clarence Sinclair Bull were following them around with some gauze screens and a kerosene lamp. For a few glorious minutes, this is the movie these two gorgeous, criminally charming actors deserve, but its magic is fleeting—as unreliable as a pair of tearaway pants.