Opening 9 Feb 2023
Writing credits: Reid Carolin
Principal actors: Salma Hayek, Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Caitlin Gerard
This third installment in the Magic Mike trilogy defies expectations in…unexpected ways. Why is it billed as a comedy? It doesn’t try to be funny. Why do the dancers keep calling themselves strippers? They don’t strip, not even to G-strings; not even bulges are in evidence. It does claim to provide “all the pleasure without the guilt,” and that comes closer to the truth because, all in all and steamy as the dancing gets, it’s all surprisingly wholesome, moralistic even. To get behind this movie (not to mention on top of, over, and under—sorry, the dancing got to me) requires true suspension of disbelief, on multiple levels (stop me before I make another dancing/sex pun).
The second installment, Magic Mike XXL (2015), ended with the eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) opening his own custom furniture business. Now, post-pandemic, he’s lost everything. He’s tending bar at a fundraiser for an unhappy trophy wife named Max (Salma Hayak Pinault) when she propositions him: a huge fee for one lap dance (don’t worry, she’s practically divorced already, because this is ultimately a straight-up love story) and when the lap dance segues into actual sex (not shown) he refuses the fee because he is not, repeat, NOT, a prostitute. This point is pounded home (watch those puns!) repeatedly. What did I say about moralistic?
That lap dance is something else, though. Boy howdy. To say that the movie kicks off with a bang…well, you know.
On the basis of said lap dance, Max feels in her heart (?) that Mike could choreograph a big splashy London dance revue. And she happens to own a theater. So, it’s off to London, where Mike will live with her during production (but no more sex! Because she’s supporting him now and he is not, remember, a prostitute). Together, they scout out hot male talent in a montage worthy of any old-timey, hey-gang-let’s-put-on-a-show! tradition. In fact, much of this movie hearkens to the goofy logic of musicals of the golden age: music played on a cell phone swells to fill a room, the camera swoops and dives around beautiful bodies in motion, and, again, belief must be suspended for this to work (how is it pouring rain on the stage? Isn’t that supposed to be a landmark building? Did they really just commandeer a city bus?). Max’s snarky teenage daughter (Jemelia George) and haughty butler (Ayub Khan Din), initially contemptuous of rough-around-the-edges Mike, are suddenly, magically, his biggest fans (although the butler covers the daughter’s eyes during the steamier parts of the show because, you know, she’s a kid).
Max’s oft-repeated claim that Mike’s erotic attentions reminded her of who she really is ties in with a further claim that, actually, this is all really, really feminist, all about “women getting what they want when they want it.” Sure. But who cares about the dialog? The cinematography is fabulous, showcasing gorgeous bodies writhing, flipping, swirling, and diving, and that’s why you see this movie. The final sequence is about a solid half hour of dancing, so you’re getting your money’s worth. Like the rapturous lap be-danced ladies on the screen, just lean back and enjoy it. (Mason Jane Milam)