"Magic Mike's Last Dance" is about strippers but are they still called strippers when the most they take off is a shirt? "Last Dance" promises racy fun in its commercials, so what we have here is a butt-and-switch.
Director Steven Soderbergh and actor Channing Tatum's third — and final? — "Magic Mike" movie wants to make a case for stripping, or whatever you call it when you don't actually take off much, as art. As the movie opens, Tatum's Mike has given up doffing his clothes for $20 bills but agrees to do one last dance for a wealthy, bored philanthropist played by Salma Hayek. It, um, goes well and she offers him a job creating a London stage show that's half Jane Austen/half take-it-off.
It's not as goofy as that sounds. More than the previous "Magic Mike" offerings, "Last Dance" is a dance movie. Once it gets past the titular solo routine — which is so genuinely sexy that it feels like a reminder that "erotic" is something current movies almost never aspire to — it's largely about putting on a show.
The highlight comes halfway through, in an audition scene that appears to have drawn inspiration from the famous "On Broadway" sequence in Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz." It's a lightning-quick montage of a variety of performers showing off their moves, from modern dance to ballet to a street dancer whose contortions appear to be impossible.
When we get a look at the finished show, its compelling theme is that women, even in Austen's era, shouldn't have to choose between love or money. "Last Dance" argues they should have a wide variety of choices, as represented by the on-stage strippers, who represent many different ethnicities, if not body types. The message gets a little muddled, since a routine set to "Permission" professes to be about consent, but includes three audience members getting rubbed on without consent, as far as we can tell. But it seems to be a hit with the show's female star and its (mixed) audience.
The rest of "Last Dance" has the aimless feel of inexpert improvisation. It's clear from the commercials that a Tatum/Hayek romance is in the offing but the movie gets repetitive in their backing-and-forthing. And the film's narration, by the Hayek character's daughter, is off-putting, since we don't know much about her and we're told she's too young to see the show-within-a-show, anyway (although, as tame as it is, there's nothing in it she couldn't have watched).
Maybe the most confusing thing about the show Mike creates is his bewildering promise that it will inspire "a zombie apocalypse of desire." I guess that's supposed to be a good thing? Like a lot of what happens in this genial but unnecessary movie, it's unclear.
'Magic Mike's Last Dance'
**1/2 out of 4 stars
Rated: R, for language and suggestive scenes.
Where: In theaters.