‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’ looks under-dressed for its curtain call

“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is less a coda to the franchise than a muted riff on it, an encore without much of a purpose. What drew director Steven Soderbergh back to material this thin is anybody’s guess, but if strippers like to talk about making it rain, this third and (for now) final entry creatively speaking yields more of a drizzle than a downpour.

Indeed, initial plans involved releasing the movie directly to HBO Max, before sister studio Warner Bros. (like CNN, another unit of Warner Bros. Discovery) opted for a theatrical release. The timing seeks to capitalize on Valentine’s Day, although given the proximity to the Super Bowl, the talent on display might inspire some men to cut back on the beer and go chug a few protein shakes.

The movie peaks, as it turns out, in the first 15 minutes, which find Channing Tatum’s Mike having hit hard times, working as a bartender after his business went bust. A chance encounter with a former patron alerts the party’s wealthy host, Maxandra (Salma Hayek Pinault, who replaced Thandiwe Newton), to Mike’s special skill set, and she awkwardly asks for a dance. He grudgingly complies, in a sequence that achieves the anticipated level of steaminess and then some.

From there, though, the plot quickly segues to Max pursuing what can only be called a half-cocked scheme, dragging Mike back to London with her based on some intuition about what he is truly “meant to be doing.” The plan entails taking over a theater she inherited from her estranged media baron husband and letting her new toy (it’s hard to think of him as more at first) put on a show.

“Putting on a show,” in this case, really does capture a story with roughly the heft of those old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies, since there’s not much to the plot, with characters beyond the principals generally providing well-muscled window dressing.

In a way, the basic template amounts to a gender flip on “Pretty Woman” (“Pretty Man?”), asking the age-old question whether a relationship that begins for a contractually negotiated fee has a future.

Reuniting with writer Reid Carolin (who worked on all three movies, with Soderbergh directing the bookends), the film brings a breezy, playful aspect to Tatum and Hayek Pinault’s banter, but that can’t obscure how content-lite much of it is, or how the film labors to erect impediments to the show going on.

As for the dancing, it’s plentiful and impressive but frankly doesn’t feel too far removed from a Vegas revue. After the opening sequence, the returns diminish, reflecting how in this sort of exercise more can become less.

This “Last Dance” comes 11 years after the original movie and eight since its “XXL” sequel. Absence really does have a way of making the heart grow fonder, though in between the concept birthed an unscripted spinoff show for the aforementioned HBO Max.

Even if Tatum chooses to hang up his briefs, this won’t be a particularly difficult franchise to oil up and revisit. The ad campaign has done its job, coyly billing the sequel as “The Final Tease.” But after sitting through the movie, the honest response to that line is, “Promise?”

“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” premieres February 10 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

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