Channing Tatum and Kylie Shea in Magic Mike's Last Dance


In a recent Vulture interview, Steven Soderbergh, director of 2012's original Magic Mike, stated that until he saw and adored the movie's London-stage-revue version in 2018, he found “no compelling reason to make a third film.” (A second one, 2015's Magic Mike XXL, was directed by Gregory Jacobs.) So now we have the Soderbergh-helmed Magic Mike's Last Dance … and this sequel feels like it still has no compelling reason to exist.

As fans of the previous male-stripper dramedies (and I'm one of them) will no doubt attest, the acrobatic, undulating dance moves delivered by Channing Tatum and his cohorts are oftentimes reason enough, and patrons moved to shriek and toss wads of cash at the screen will find several opportunities to do so. But what I missed from our third exposure to Mike Lane's body-fat-free gyrations – and what the other two releases provided in abundance – was joy. There's nothing here to match the exuberance of the Xquisite Strip Club routines in Magic Mike, or Joe Manganiello's priceless seduction of a grumpy convenience-store clerk in XXL, or even the imperious brazenness of that film's Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks, and Jada Pinkett Smith. (It should also go without saying that the grinning swagger of Matthew “All right, all right, all ri-i-i-ight!” McConaughey has been absent for a long time now.) Last Dance does boast a perfectly serviceable setup, if an inherently ridiculous one. But Soderbegh's first cineplex outing since 2018's Unsane is weirdly dry and tedious, and its director has a habit of continually screwing up scenes that should've been impossible to wreck. Not only does this presumed trilogy-ender not hold a candle to its predecessors; it emerges as one of the most awkward, least satisfying works on its Oscar-winning creator's entire résumé.

You wouldn't necessarily foresee that sad truth during the movie's initial 15 minutes, which are pretty terrific. Although there's immediately disorienting voice-over narration by what sounds like a teenage girl, we're at least brought up to speed quickly: Mike, now approaching (if not looking) middle age, has retired from exotic dancing; the pandemic forced the closure of his self-started furniture business; and he's now making ends meet as a bartender for an upscale catering company. While working a charity event, he meets the fundraiser's wealthy, miserable, recently separated organizer Maxandra “Max” Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), who learns of Mike's previous career and offers him $6,000 for a private dance. Not one to turn a good gig down, Mike kicks off his shoes, removes additional articles of clothing – including some of Max's – and gives the woman what she's paying for and then some. So far, so hot.

Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek Pinault in Magic Mike's Last Dance

The troubles, for the movie at least, begin the next morning, when Mike chivalrously refuses to accept Max's money but does accept a more exorbitant fee of $60,000 to accompany her to London for a month. What Mike doesn't know – although anyone who's seen the Last Dance trailer does – is that he's being recruited to direct and choreograph an elaborate revue in the West End theatre previously owned by Max's husband: a male-stripper “re-imagining” of a stuffy 19th-century melodrama with fewer butlers and way-more butts. Because, like its predecessors, this Magic Mike is essentially a musical without singing, we're inclined to give the film a few breaks in the realism department. And because Max is crazy-rich and aching to embarrass her husband, I let slide the inanity of her plan to stage Mike's opus for one night only and not alert either the media or ticket-buyers about the presentational switch. (The folks showing up for that performance, principally the straight men among them, are in for one hell of a surprise.) Suspension of disbelief, though, has its limits, and the suspension required here is seemingly limitless.

First off, there's the audition process. Entertainments ranging from The Fabulous Baker Boys to Pitch Perfect to any season of American Idol have trained us to look forward to these sequences as a glimpse of future successes and, more amusingly, a comical weeding out of the unworthy. But when they have their solo try-outs for Mike's and Max's hush-hush project, every single one of the hopefuls turns out to be a phenomenally gifted dancer with an instinctive knack for stripteasing and six-to-12-pack abs; The Full Monty this definitely ain't. (It also ain't because the gents here never go the full monty.) In hindsight, though, the performers' wildly unlikely indistinguishability makes sense, considering that Soderbergh and credited screenwriter Reid Carolin appear completely uninterested in them except as fetish objects. I'm not sure that more than two of the dozen-or-so are ever referenced by name, and most of them aren't permitted to speak, and absolutely none of the guys demonstrates anything in the way of personality – not that, under the circumstances, any of them could. Not long into the movie, Channing's former co-stars Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, and Adam Rodriguez collectively show up for a sweet and funny Zoom-call cameo, and they're a welcome yet ultimately depressing reminder of how much this series lost when it lost them between Mikes two and three.

Anyway, I didn't buy the en masse perfection of the auditionees. Nor did I believe that Mike was actually directing or choreographing anything, given that the one instance we get of him offering any guidance finds him telling a dancer that the man's moves are great, but that they'd be even greater with a little more “connection,” which Mike subsequently demonstrates. (I didn't notice a difference.) Nor, in no particular order, did I believe in: the laughable ease with which Max and Mike overcame structural and licensing hurdles; Max's precocious teen daughter (our narrator Zadie, played by Jemelia George) writing a novel about her mom's dalliance with the hunk from Florida; Mike's light-bulb moment when he realizes the climax can be saved with “a plumber and a ballerina.”

Salma Hayek Pinault and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike's Last Dance

Most damagingly, I didn't believe in Max and Mike, neither as a couple nor as individuals. Together, Hayek Pinault and Tatum share some frisky banter, and physically, they're certainly on fire in that private-dance opener. But too much of their time is spent trading what sound like unscripted expository accounts of the plot – several scenes between them suggest improvisational acting-class exercises – while the characters' verbalized rationales for their love (“He's the first person to ever see me” “She's the first person to ever believe in me”) come off as screenwriting conceits that are never fully dramatized. As Soderbergh is again working under his cinematographer alias “Peter Andrews” here, as well as under his film-editor alias “Mary Ann Bernard,” is it possible that “Reid Carolin” is simply a pseudonym for “no one at all”? Meanwhile, Max has been designed as such an impetuous neurotic, and Mike has been made so saintly to counteract her wild shifts of mood, that instead of wanting to see these two get together, you leave thinking they might be far better off without one another. Not exactly the conclusion a theoretically passionate romance should lead to.

When Soderbergh's latest does infrequently succeed, it's generally in its loose, ticklish throwaway bits: Mike's and Max's visible shock as a dancer/contortionist twists his torso 180 degrees; Mike interrupting an argument between Max and Zadie that's being conducted in French by saying, “Pardon my French, but you two are being rude as fu-u-uck.” It's the big moments that Soderbergh keeps waylaying. A mid-film flash-mob dance on a city bus – one clearly modeled after Manganiello's XXL convenience-store impromptu – seems to end before it properly begins and boasts an impossible-to-hide costume besides. The one-night-only spectacle, in a massively missed opportunity, doesn't allow for any dissenting voices; couldn't some comic mileage have been found from elderly Brits storming out of the theatre when the drama they paid to see turned out to be a high-end Chippendales assault? Even the most legitimately sensual and exciting number in the film, a climactic dance in the (theatrical) rain between Tatum and Kylie Shea, is chopped into senseless ribbons by Soderbergh' s decision to pepper the routine with imposed, deeply unnecessary flashbacks. Magic Mike's Last Dance has more than its share of grinding pelvises. Sadly, for most of this musical's hour and 50 minutes, it also proves to have two left feet.

Jena Malone in Consecration


At some point post-Sound of Music, it was apparently decided that audiences should be instinctively terrified of groups of nuns amassed behind convent walls. (Lord knows I shudder every time I'm faced with the prospect of Nunsense.) But with his new horror thriller Consecration, writer/director Christopher Smith doesn't even wait to get to his primary convent locale before attempting a habit-donning freakout, presenting us with a Mother Superior who aims a gun at sweet-faced Jena Malone's head before the movie is even two minutes old. Who, or what, would possess her to do that? Was the elderly woman petrified about the possibility of a Neon Demon sequel and presumed this the only way to prevent one?

Once you learn that Smith's film is about Malone's young atheist traveling to a remote Scottish convent to investigate the reported suicide of her brother – a priest who allegedly murdered another priest – you can pretty safely guess that it's the devil who done the deed. Refreshingly, that's not what transpires in Consecration ... at least not entirely. But the moderate cleverness of Smith's and co-writer Laurie Cook's narrative really doesn't matter much, given that the tropes leading to its conclusion have already been done to death. There are candle-lit rooms with intimidating interiors and high ceilings to provide an ideal amount of echo-chamber instability. There are suspicious sisters of the cloth – one of whom poked out her own eye after a purported encounter with Satan – who engage in bizarre rituals and never smile. (There's also the token Smiling Sister who's the most unsettling of the lot.) There's the requisite avuncular priest who offers our heroine all the assistance she may want, but who's inevitably played by Danny Huston, meaning that we shouldn't trust him under any circumstances. There are supernatural visions and flashback torments and “It was only a dream!” red herrings and a dubious cop and creepy choral chants and perilous cliffs and dank and cobwebby catacombs and an Academy Award nominee slumming in genre nonsense … .

That would be Janet Suzman, who received a Best Actress nod for her 1971 film debut in Nicholas & Alexandra and plays the aforementioned Mother Superior with a firearm. She's subtly excellent, as is Malone's unexpectedly spot-on British dialect, and Smith's and Cook's mostly successful melding of seemingly contradictory elements – Knights on horseback? Kids in a cage? – deserves a modicum of respect. Consecration, however, is still formulaic and dreary and dull, and sadly, it doesn't provide even one decent scare. Even if you haven't seen the movie yet, if you're a horror fan, you've already seen it. Many times over.

Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher in Your Place or Mine


As there have been more intriguing options popping up on my other streaming services of late, it's been a minute since I last checked in on Netflix, which I haven't paid much attention to since viewing a number of potential and eventual Oscar contenders that I didn't feel any particular need to write about: White Noise (prototypically tiresome Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig eccentricity); Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (self-consciously artful Alejandro González Iñarrítu indulgence with ravishing Darius Khondji cinematography); Blonde (Ana de Armas, marvelous under demanding and frequently cruel circumstances; the movie itself, blech). Yet while working on a home project this past weekend that required me to sit in place for a number of hours, I did make time for two recent Netflix outings that do merit a bit of attention: Your Place or Mine, which may help explain why cineplexes have become all but bereft of traditional romantic comedies, and You People, which may help explain why rom-coms deserve a big-screen comeback.

Written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna, the show-runner for that four-season TV marvel Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Your Place or Mine is currently sitting at the top of Netflix's “most watched” chart following the movie's February 8 debut. Its placement there underlines why I so rarely turn to Netflix for viewing suggestions. As with many modern rom-coms, the storyline is simple, even though the machinations behind its premise are anything but: Longtime platonic pals swap homes for a week – she visits his immaculate bachelor's pad in New York, he takes to her Post-it-filled house in Southern California – and gradually realize from afar that they may be in love. So it's a Sleepless in Seattle affair (to remember), with leads Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher trading loads of quips but almost never existing in the same time zone, and all genre tenets duly accounted for: precocious tyke; supportive pals; Jesse Williams in the Bill Pullman role. I hated it.

Despite detesting her script for the Katherine Heigl vehicle 27 Dresses, I'll readily admit that McKenna has written a number of comedies I don't instinctively loathe: The Devil Wears Prada, Morning Glory, the 2014 reboot of Annie. (Seriously, that movie was good!) Adding Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to the mix, that's why it was heartbreaking to hear, from Your Place or Mine's very first scene, so much thudding exposition so gracelessly presented, and with nothing in the way of laughs. I'm exaggerating, but the conversation throughout is basically of this variety: “Isn't it great that we've been best friends for 20 years even though we slept together that one time in college but don't have any hard feelings about it? And that you have that kid I love – whom I'm not the father of – whose dad you amicably divorced before pursuing your goal of becoming an editor? And that I can maintain a friendship with a woman I'm not sleeping with even though I've spent the last two decades engaging in one meaningless hookup after another because I'm afraid of commitment and refuse to follow my true desire of becoming a published author?” If this is your cup of strychnine-laced tea, by all means enjoy yourself. I spent two agonizing hours rolling my eyes at the stars' robotic lack of rom-com rapport; their characters' pitifully stupid lies; the humiliating waste of second bananas Zoë Chao, Rachel Bloom, and Steve Zahn; and Tig Notaro entering her every scene – her every damned scene! – carrying a cup of takeout coffee. Was McKenna afraid we wouldn't recognize her without the prop? She's Tig Notaro, for God's sake!

Jonah Hill and Lauren London in You People

Blessedly, though, I completed my streaming rom-com two-fer with writer/director Kenya Barris' You People, which made its Netflix debut on January 27 and is still in the top five. It deserves to be. With the film's male star Jonah Hill also Barris' co-screenwriter, the movie is just as contrived and high-concept as Your Place or Mine, except in this one, the “Will they or won't they?” question concerns whether Hill's and Lauren London's families will ever allow them to marry, given the former's Jewish upbringing the latter's Muslim one. All manner of comedically uncomfortable Black-v.-White shenanigans ensue, as do a number of overt (and rarely successful) slapstick scenarios, and if you're imagining that the film will end with a wedding in which – surprise! – everyone magically finds a way to blend hundreds of years' worth of Jewish and Muslim customs, this obviously isn't your first Hollywood rom-com. In short, even for a fan of its genre, You People should be unendurable. It's not, though, because beyond Hill and London sharing more romantic chemistry in three minutes than Witherspoon and Kutcher do in almost 120, this thing is frequently really, really funny.

It's eventually also pretty maudlin, of course, and I would personally have preferred it had the script jettisoned all the sentimental schmaltz we anticipate in favor of more belly laughs; with about a half-hour to go, the goings-on begin to feel awfully labored and the raunchiness unwisely subsides. But oh what a good time You People provides before then! I was on-board with the film's sardonic hilarity from its first scene, with Hill's podcaster trading riotous imaginings with his co-host (the divine Sam Jay) over how a coked-out Barack Obama might behave in private. But the cackles and hysterically astute social commentary just kept coming: from Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Hill's mom, sweetly and pathetically trying to show off her political correctness and woke bona fides to a disbelieving audience (“My friends and I love talking about police brutality!”); from Eddie Murphy as London's hard-nosed dad, a man who cannot believe that his only daughter has chosen as her partner this heavy-set white poser with the appropriated Black slang; from Nia Long and David Duchovny as the intendeds' other, slightly less domineering folks … though the X-Files star does a remarkable job of unwittingly embarrassing himself during an ill-considered piano-with-vocals piece.

Crammed full of superb jokes and enough comic mortification to fuel an entire season of The Office (American or British version), this winningly profane outing feels like the sort of movie that could have been a sizable hit back when studios still considered romantic comedies worthy of nationwide non-streaming release. It's also a treasure trove of celebrity cameos killing it in brief roles. Among the collection of familiar You People presences that includes Anthony Anderson, Rhea Perlman, Mike Epps, Matt Walsh, and Elliott Gould, I was particularly delighted to see Hal Linden, whom I didn't realize was still alive, and Richard Benjamin, whom I don't recall seeing in a film since Woody Allen's 1997 Deconstructing Harry, in which the actor was orally serviced by um … Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Apparently, in Barris' movie, the comic mortification extends even beyond the screen.

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