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Salma Hayek and Channing Tatum in a scene from Magic Mike's Last Dance.Claudette Barius/The Associated Press

Magic Mike’s Last Dance

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Written by Reid Carolin

Starring Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinault and Alex Cox

Classification R; 112 minutes

In theatres Feb. 10

There are two distinct approaches when it comes to crafting a Magic Mike movie. The first, of course, being the one that director Steven Soderbergh took in the now global brand’s original 2012 film. Yes, it was a story about male strippers (sorry, “male entertainers”), but it was also a post-recession drama that explored the links between labour, desirability and nihilism with the filmmaker’s trademark, indie-bred observational gaze.

For the 2015 sequel – the appropriately named Magic Mike XXL – Soderbergh handed over the directorial reigns to long-time collaborator Gregory Jacobs, who effectively exploded the restraint of the previous film into a wonderfully fun and delightfully sincere narrative that felt like the Odyssey for the himbo generation.

Now, eight years after we last saw Mike and his boys charm onscreen, arrives the series’ newest instalment, Magic Mike’s Last Dance. It’s understandable that one might expect – what with Soderbergh back in the director’s seat and the spectre of yet another “last ride” for our dear, titular Mike hanging over it – the film to incorporate elements from both of its successors as a kind of farewell to its oftentimes frenzied audiences. It would be the best of both worlds: the electric performances, camp feel and almost matryoshka-doll-esque approach to cameos of XXL, plus the character development, studied visuals and tonal depth of the original Magic Mike.

But instead of bringing both Mike camps together under one singular banner of adieu, Magic Mike’s Last Dance offers a deflated final romp for Channing Tatum’s title character.

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Soderbergh’s film tosses the many lessons of its predecessors, leaving us with a movie that is utterly devoid of its own magic.Claudette Barius/The Associated Press

We find Mike, once again at the cruel will of the gig economy, working as a bartender for the more moneyed stratum of society. This is how he meets Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), a wealthy divorcee in search of a much-needed reinvigoration who offers Mike $6,000 for a private dance. They end up spending the night together after Mike wows her with his still potent moves, and Maxandra offers to bring him to London to direct and choreograph his own cabaret-style show at her ex-husband’s prestigious theatre.

It is a great opening act that brings with it the promise of a final show even more show-stopping than ones we’ve seen before. But what we’re given is a series of disappointments that feels like a sustained denial of the characterization and spectacle that we’ve come to expect. Last Dance is certainly more reliant on plot than its predecessors, but unfortunately it also is the flimsiest of the three in that regard. Lacking the character development of the first film as well as the pointed fun of the second, Last Dance makes one wonder, what exactly is the point of it all?

While Hayek Pinault and Channing are charming in their roles, there’s a feeling that they’ve been allowed to improvise entirely too much; there is only so far that each actor’s natural charisma can take us. Also glaring is the complete sidelining of Mike’s troupe of male dancers. If Magic Mike and XXL trade in any commonalities, it was their commitment to building if not character, then personalities that could engage us. Ken, Big Dick Richie, Tito, Tarzan and Tobias were crucial parts of each film’s patterning, lending to the mosaic of the world that Soderbergh shaped in Magic Mike and the sweet camaraderie of XXL.

In Last Dance, we see Mike’s boys in a jarringly abrupt video conferencing call and then are introduced to a group of almost faceless, if beautiful dancers – none of whom are given the space to cultivate any sort of personality or even share their names. It is an almost shocking lack of character development that, alongside Soderbergh’s decidedly directionless montages, leads to the film’s penultimate moments feeling more Step Up than Magic Mike.

If audiences come to Last Dance with one single expectation, it has to be the anticipation of a final show that will have us cheering from our seats even louder than before. What Soderbergh offers instead is a series of lacklustre and disconnected performances devoid of fun and spirit. Gone are the magnetic emcees of past (Magic Mike’s smarmy, snakeskin clad Matthew McConaughey, and XXL’s powerfully sensual Jada Pinkett Smith), the perfectly curated song choices, and the spirited, character-motivated routines. Most notably, Ginuwine’s song Pony – a revered motif in the previous films – is almost an afterthought here in a world that seemingly no longer cares to captivate or entertain us, even if only to winkingly reference itself.

It is a flagrant oversight in plotting that only underlines how unconvincing and underwritten Last Dance is as a whole. Soderbergh’s film tosses the many lessons of its predecessors, leaving us with a movie that is utterly devoid of its own magic.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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