'Magic Mike's Last Dance': I see London, I see pants
STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
Channing Tatum stars in "Magic Mike" and "Magic Mike XXL" as a dancer and male entertainer from Tampa who puts on shows with his friends.
LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
Now he's in "Magic Mike's Last Dance." In the new movie, he must put on a show bankrolled by a wealthy socialite. I'm Linda Holmes.
THOMPSON: And I'm Stephen Thompson. Today we are talking about "Magic Mike's Last Dance" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining us today is fellow POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR co-host Aisha Harris. Hi, Aisha.
AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hello, Stephen and Linda.
HOLMES: I just want to point out Aisha is already wiggling as she introduces herself, so we are off to a great start.
HARRIS: I'm doing my last dance (laughter).
THOMPSON: Also joining us is Christina Tucker, co-host of the podcast "Wait, Is This A Date?" Welcome back, Christina.
CHRISTINA TUCKER: Hello. Hello.
THOMPSON: It's so great to have you. So Channing Tatum plays Mike Lane in the first two "Magic Mike" movies. In those films, we get to know Mike in part through his friendship with other male entertainers. They put on shows. They go on the road. They bond and dance and meet people along the way. But "Magic Mike's Last Dance" removes Mike from that element pretty quickly. When the movie begins, we learn that he's working as a bartender to make ends meet. He soon meets Maxandra Mendoza, a socialite played by Salma Hayek Pinault. She's having a rough time of it. She's in the midst of a divorce. She learns that Mike has been a stripper in the past, so she decides to brighten her day by hiring him to give her a private lap dance.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAREFUL")
LUCKY DAYE: (Singing) Carried away. How you gon' light my fire and can't contain it? Why you wan' tease my mind with all this danger?
THOMPSON: Soon she's got an even more lucrative gig in mind for him. She hires him to spend a month with her in London and overhaul a theater owned by her estranged husband's family.
HOLMES: God, this plot.
THOMPSON: Hey. We've got to get all these details in there. Basically, they need to turn it from a stuffy theatrical stage into a bawdier place entirely, complete with, well, male entertainment. So they gather up a new batch of dancers, virtually none of whom have any speaking parts at all, and whip them into shape for one big last dance. "Magic Mike's Last Dance" was directed by Steven Soderbergh. He directed the first "Magic Mike" but sat out "Magic Mike XXL." It's written by Reid Carolin, who also wrote the first two films. "Magic Mike's Last Dance" is in theaters now.
Christina Tucker, I'm going to start with you. What did you think of "Magic Mike's Last Dance"?
TUCKER: I had a fine time at "Magic Mike's Last Dance." Was it the soaring male bonding of "Magic Mike XXL"? It was not. Was it the kind of darker class experience that was the first "Magic Mike"? No, it was not. Was it basically a romance novel, like a gender-swapped billionaire-makes-your-dream-comes-true told from the point of view of a himbo? That it was. And, you know, I'm a simple woman. That's fun for me. That's all I need sometimes.
THOMPSON: All right.
THOMPSON: You've set the bar about where it is.
THOMPSON: How about you, Aisha?
HARRIS: Well, let me start off with what I did really like about this movie, which is the first few minutes of this film. There is the private dance that we've already alluded to that the Salma Hayek Pinault character asked for. And this was a moment where I was like, oh, my God, Salma is the luckiest woman in the world. This is amazing. The way this scene is choreographed - it's in her living room, this very luxurious living room. And he sets it up where he starts off by, you know, moving things around to get prepared for it. He just chills, sort of walking around like the himbo he is. And he's, like, checking out the furniture and seeing if it's sturdy enough.
THOMPSON: Shakes a beam at one point.
HARRIS: Shakes a beam. Yes. And he's like, oh, this is quality furniture, because as we know, he's a furniture guy. As the scene is happening, they're basically having sex with their clothes on. And I loved every moment of it. There's a moment where he is, like, dangling from one of her furniture pieces. And then he, like, slips out of his pants. Like, his legs come out. And I was just amazed. It was amazing. So that was, like, the high point. And then we get to the rest of the film. And at my screening, this is, like, a press mix with regular audience member screening. They had special free complimentary drinks, like, pegged to the film, themed to the film. They're trying to liquor it's up. They even had, like, four or five male dancers I guess they hired, who - at the beginning, before the screening even started, one of the press people brought in a boombox and started playing "Pony." And then they tried to invite some audience members to come and get lap dances.
So they were clearly trying to prime us for this movie. And when I say that there was a lot of dead air during the screening, there was a lot of dead air. And I think part of that comes from the pacing of the film. There's a lot of weird choices within what Steven Soderbergh chooses to focus on. It just felt like there wasn't a lot going on in moments that I think were supposed to be dramatic. And I couldn't quite sink my teeth into the rest of the film in the way that - "XXL" to me is the best of these films because it understands the assignment. And it knows that you can both have a female empowerment story while also still keeping the sort of, like, male bonding sense, which I think is, like, a difficult balance to have. But this movie does not have that. And so I came away feeling - you know, there were some high points, and I'm glad Salma and Channing Tatum have such good chemistry. But I think the story itself lets them down and doesn't really let that romance get explored in a way that makes any sense. This was probably the least of the "Magic Mike" movies. Still had a decent time though.
HOLMES: So Stephen, I don't know if you remember this from less than 24 hours ago. But when I came out of this movie...
HOLMES: ...I asked you a question. And the question I asked you was, have you ever seen "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo"?
THOMPSON: That's right.
HOLMES: And you said no. And I said, now you have.
HOLMES: Because this is essentially the plot of "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo," Jessica Alba's "Honey," a little bit "Center Stage." This is essentially the plot where everybody has to work to do this one big show. And instead of being, like, a road trip, like "XXL" was, with all the fun that a road trip involves, it's just a bunch of rehearsal. And imagine "Ocean's 11" if only George Clooney talked...
HOLMES: ...And the rest of them were not characters. They were just going around. And you saw them in montages, and the kind of getting the ragtag group together didn't involve those guys ever talking. That's the biggest problem I had with this movie. I sense - and my worry is that the reason this was done this way is to save money. They swapped out a group of guys who are characters, who you only see - like, the guys from the previous movies essentially have a cameo. That's, I think, sort of insulting...
HOLMES: ...To their role in this franchise.
HARRIS: Oh, my God, it drags.
HOLMES: And they're replaced by a bunch of dancers who don't talk. And I think if you do not give people any lines, it is cheaper. That is my concern - is that that might be why this happened. Because when I came out of the film and I headed home, I thought, it's not just that they're not well-developed. They don't talk at all. And it makes the movie feel, to me, really weird and out of balance. Because in the place of an actual group of characters who make up the dance troupe, you have this relationship - I agree with Christina - this is structured like a romance between Mike and Max. And Max is a character I did not like at all. She makes several references to, like - do you think I'm crazy? Crazy is not ever the word that you would use in a situation like this, but does she do a bunch of things that I don't think make any sense? Yes. Does she seem sort of zany and exhausting? Yes. I did not like this character, and that made it impossible for me to connect with the romance. I also - when I went back and listened to our episode about "Magic Mike XXL," our colleague, Glen Weldon, made a very important point about that film, which is one of the things that made it so joyful is that in, for example, the now very famous Joe Manganiello dance in the convenience store...
HOLMES: ...It really stresses that the stripping is not to turn the woman on. It's to make her smile. And it's not that it's not hot. Don't misunderstand me. It's not that it's not hot. But there is a way in which those films were about joy through watching stripping.
HOLMES: And I think that, although I agree with Aisha that the initial essentially simulated sex between Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek Pinault is a hot scene, that's basically like - this movie is about lap dancing as actually being a prelude to sex, which is a very different idea from lap dances being a liberating and joyful thing for women who are essentially having the equivalent of a spa experience, right? I did not think the things people did in this film made any sense. I didn't feel engaged in the story. I think the story is not great, and I think there is not enough dancing. I just think the script is the problem. The story's the problem, despite how much I really enjoyed Channing Tatum in these movies.
TUCKER: I mean, I do have a note that just his narration was a mistake, so...
HARRIS: Oh, my God. The voiceover narration, yes. Ugh.
HOLMES: There's a very heavy-handed voiceover from - by Max's daughter. And it just feels like it's there to try to lay some kind of thematic foundation for this as all being about the joy of dance, which isn't earned. And in a couple of places, it seems like, Mike was thinking this because he was thinking about how dance brings people together.
HOLMES: I'm like, no, that shouldn't come from the movie.
THOMPSON: Well, OK. So I agree with basically everything you've all said, including Christina basically saying, like, well, I had a pretty good time, and having the bar be set there. Like, I think this movie cleared a couple of crucial hurdles. For me, my favorite thing about "Magic Mike XXL" - and I agree with Aisha completely that "Magic Mike XXL" is the pinnacle of this franchise.
TUCKER: Of cinema - just say it.
THOMPSON: Of cinema.
TUCKER: It's the pinnacle of cinema.
HARRIS: Yeah. One of the best movies of the last 10 years - and I'm not being hyperbolic here.
THOMPSON: "Magic Mike XXL" is great. And one of the things that is truly great about "Magic Mike XXL" is it's not just about what these dances mean and what they entail for people and the kind of liberation and joy that they entail. That film is also deeply about intimate - in the like, nonsexual sense - intimate male friendships and the importance of nurturing and kindness among men. And that actually felt pretty radical in a film that's, like, really about, like, a bunch of bros getting naked around each other. The fact that they care about each other deeply, talk about their feelings, touch each other lovingly in the way they go through the world, that's really important. And in a way, that made that film feel radical. What I will say for this film is I don't think this film does anything to undercut that tone. There are moments in this film where Channing Tatum behaves around the other men in the scene in very loving and supportive ways. There's just, like, a guy who's, like, a stage director, and he, like, has his hand on his shoulder and tells him he does a great job. And, like, there are moments of that kind of sweetness in this film. But the central mistake this film makes is made kind of from the jump, where it just writes out of the film basically everybody from the previous movies except for Mike. You have this one Zoom call with a few of his buddies that's meant to kind of be a little bit of a tip of the cap to the films that came before this, but otherwise, it's entirely new people, entirely people I didn't care as much about. If they had found a way to just, like - she's got all the money in the world - fly these dudes out. Like, put together a show with the dudes from the other movies. Why does it have to be a new crop of completely anonymous people who never get to speak? Every step of the way, it was a missed opportunity to connect this film with the other films in the franchise and really touch on the themes that made - especially the second film - so special.
TUCKER: Yeah, I had this feeling like I didn't need it to kind of repeat with the same characters that kind of loving friendship energy because we do have "XXL," right? It exists. I can watch that film. But it did feel like a missed opportunity to have this whole crop of new bros basically and not get to kind of repeat that experience in a different way with different characters. I kind of just wanted to know a little bit more about - let's be honest - anything about the...
TUCKER: ...New dancers who showed up. And I think if we had recreated that kind of "Magic Mike XXL" experience with these new guys, I think that would have felt a little more true to the themes and the vibe of the movie in general.
HARRIS: I think, also, there's like - there's a certain sense of irony that this movie is coming out this same week as that infamous piece in The Cut about the Fleischman Effect and these rich women who are very upset with their lives and are, you know, complaining about not being able to afford private schools or whatever. And then we have, like, the Salma Hayek Pinault character who is basically another, you know, very wealthy woman who is supposed to be sort of the stand-in for all women and their desires. And the movie really hammers it home throughout the whole film, including that voiceover narration about, like, how women desire things, and they don't just want one thing. They want many things. And I think that's clearly what double XL was trying to do as well - and I think did very well - because it actually encompassed a lot of different women. It was the woman at the convenience store. It was the Jada Pinkett Smith character. It was the Andie MacDowell character, women of different ages, of different ethnicities, of different class, like, of different places in life. And where this movie falters is in the fact that I think it just focuses on this one woman character. And the - there's an actress in the show that they are completely overhauling.
THOMPSON: There's also a bureaucrat who they kind of have to warm up.
HARRIS: Yeah, yeah. So there's that. But it just felt as though this movie seemed to go back to the first movie where it just had this tone that felt not fun enough, not light enough, a little dirge-like in many ways. And I know it's supposed to be the last dance, but, like, let's make this a little more exciting. Like, the fact that it's set in London, I'm sorry, but London is dreary, generally speaking.
HARRIS: And then most of it is set inside this dark theater. It just felt sad in a way, and I wanted a little more joy. And I think it was, you know, to Linda's point about the prelude to sex in the way - to me, that was the one thing that worked just because I do think there's a place for joy, and I'm glad "Magic Mike" got into that. But I think it can often tip into joy and then it just being super silly. And I think this movie, at least trying to acknowledge that some women, yes, actually want it to feel like a prelude to sex, I liked that. But the rest of the movie felt so dark and dreary. It just felt like it was missing the effervescence and felt too much like the first film, which is also kind of shot in these very dark tones because it's set in Florida. And it's just trying to be very realistic in a way, so...
HOLMES: But that had the character elements, I think...
HOLMES: ...The first film...
HOLMES: ...It had that sort of like indie grunginess, more than either of the other two.
HARRIS: Yeah, very "Spring Breakers" era, like...
TUCKER: Yeah. I wrote 2013 in my notes. I mean, I think that was also because of, like - all of the kind of feminism dialogue felt like 2013.
TUCKER: But I think also kind of that vibe is very present.
HOLMES: The interesting thing is I do feel like I agree with you, Aisha, that you never want to go into saying, like, stripping for women is not about sex or not about sexual desire, right? That can be infantilizing. It can be sort of - women just want to cuddle. Like, that - I get that whole thing.
HARRIS: (Laughter) Yeah.
HOLMES: But at the same time, what I thought gave dimension to the way that they approached stripping in "XXL" was to sort of say it has elements of a bunch of different things, including this really interesting conversation that this character played by Donald Glover has with the Matt Bomer character, where he essentially says, like, the amazing thing is what women really want is for you to just care what they want. That's really all they're asking for. And I remember finding that statement so kind of piercing and bleak in a way. And I think that this film makes a lot of pronouncements to that effect. It keeps talking about that idea of giving women what they want, but I think it does it in a much flatter way.
HOLMES: In addition to the voiceover, which I agree is pretty calamitous in terms of how clunky it feels, there's also a section near the end where a character is sort of, like, having flashbacks to earlier in the movie...
HOLMES: ...To explain the meaning of the climactic kind of moments of the relationship. And it's like - you should not have to have a character have flashbacks to earlier in the same movie...
HOLMES: ...In order for the audience to kind of understand what she's feeling.
HARRIS: This is all also taking place only over the course of a month, by the way.
TUCKER: There is also that.
HOLMES: And this made me so sad 'cause I really have liked these movies. And I really love Channing Tatum, and I think there are these moments in this where he gets to be a little bit funny. And I think he's so funny...
HOLMES: ...And delightful. It just lay a little bit flat for me. I was so, so bummed.
TUCKER: Yeah. I still am just having, like, a hard time understanding why it had to be in London, of all places.
THOMPSON: Oh, my God.
TUCKER: And, like, not to, you know, shame a rich woman's, like, various homes, but I was like, we have this gorgeous, like, palatial Miami space, and then we moved to this, like, tiny, cramped London townhouse. And it's just like, well, why couldn't we just stay in Miami and, like, have this fun here?
THOMPSON: Put on the show in this fabulous mansion.
TUCKER: Like, where we have, like, light - have heard of it.
TUCKER: Like, it's here, it comes through these gorgeous windows, and, like, this feels like a space we can, like, hang out and, like, breathe in a little bit easier, as opposed - and then he wouldn't have to be on a Zoom call with his buddies...
TUCKER: ...'Cause he would be in Miami. I just was like - I don't know why we're over here.
TUCKER: Buy a different theater.
HOLMES: And I do want to say - you know, you mentioned really quickly the bureaucrat who is - you know, they potentially have to sort of warm her up and charm her. I felt like that character was out of, like, 1987.
HOLMES: It's sort of the mousy woman who just wants to be opened up by having strippers perform for her. It felt a little mocking to me. And one of the things that I like about "Magic Mike" and about "XXL" is they're not mocking toward women, and I think this is a bit mocking toward her. Eventually, I think it's kinder to her. But at the beginning, it's very kind of stereotypically unkind to her in a way I didn't like and that surprised me. So yeah, I don't mean to just list grievances, but, boy, I was bummed out.
THOMPSON: I think I just wanted a fun hang. I'm going to go watch "Magic Mike XXL" for the ninth or 10th time.
HARRIS: Ah. So good.
TUCKER: Peak of cinema.
THOMPSON: All right. Well, we want to know what you think about "Magic Mike's Last Dance." Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh. Up next - what is making us happy this week.
Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week - What's Making Us Happy this week? Christina Tucker, what's making you happy this week, buddy?
TUCKER: I took a little jaunt up to a city called New York - heard of it? - to see the 21st anniversary screening of "Lord Of The Rings," presented in concert, with the orchestra doing the full score. It was incredible. I was with my people. There was so much cheering. There was so much joy. I did, of course, weep the second the music began. How could one not? And while I am not suggesting everyone go directly to Radio City Music Hall to see this performance as it was in the past, I do highly recommend. If you have the chance to see a film that you love and know the music to and feel good about, it's so fun. It's so moving, and it really just was, like, a banging time. And even though I did say noted flop Boromir when everyone cheered at Sean Bean's appearance - still worth it. Still worth it.
HOLMES: You also tweeted that you were waiting for a Lydia Tar to come out, which I thought was very funny.
TUCKER: Well, who wouldn't be? Who wouldn't be? Seeing Lydia Tar would have been, really, just the cherry on top of that. But, yeah, go see a good movie with a good score and see an orchestra perform it. It's really moving and a really stunning time.
THOMPSON: Wonderful. Thank you, Christina Tucker. Aisha Harris, what's making you happy this week?
HARRIS: Well, a couple of - wow, I can't believe we're in February. A couple of months ago, we did an episode on SZA's new album, "SOS." And since then, I have been listening to it basically nonstop and just investing in everything that she's done and talked about and whatever. One thing I do want to recommend for those who, like me, are still on this SZA high and this, like, abundance of riches is listen to "Switched On Pop," which is produced by one of our friends of the show - dear friends of the show - Reanna Cruz. In this episode, they talk about SZA. They go deep on sort of her melodic phrasing and how it stands out and how it's different from all these other current pop stars happening and how she pulls from hip-hop and also even Wagner. And if you've ever wondered - like, why does SZA feel different, or why can I not, you know, remember all the lyrics to SZA's songs? - which is something I have a problem doing 'cause it's just, like, all over the place, this is a great sort of deep dive and, like, picking apart of the way she crafts her melodies and her lyrics. And I just definitely enjoyed it so much, and I enjoy that podcast overall. So check out "Switched On Pop's" episode on SZA and all the great things about SZA.
THOMPSON: Nice. Thank you, Aisha, great pick. Linda Holmes, what's making you happy this week?
HOLMES: So coming out in theaters this weekend as you hear this and on Apple TV in a week is a film about con artists called "Sharper." I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. It seemed like your basic kind of streaming movie about which I had not heard a whole lot. I really enjoyed it. I love a con artist. It has a really impressive cast, including Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Briana Middleton and Justice Smith, who - when I saw Justice Smith as the lead in "The Get Down" on Netflix a few years ago...
HOLMES: ...My reaction was that kid is a huge, huge star. And it hasn't happened as much as I thought it would.
THOMPSON: Excuse me, "Detective Pikachu."
HOLMES: But what has happened is that now every time I see him, I'm so psyched.
HOLMES: And he's lovely in this. Essentially, this is one of these con artist puzzle boxes where, you know, the story is constantly shifting and being undermined and - who can you trust? - and - what is going on really as opposed to what people say is going on? Did I see all of its twists coming? Absolutely not. Did I see some of its twists coming? Sure, of course.
HARRIS: Yeah, yeah.
HOLMES: By the time you get to the end of a film like this, you are anticipating that nothing is what it seems, and that makes it harder and harder for them to pull the rug out from under you. But I did really like this kind of moody, grown-up drama. It's just a movie. It is a fun, grown-up thriller, and it just gave me exactly what I wanted. And I think if you want to go check out the film in theaters this weekend, that's great. It will also, I think, make a great couch watch.
HARRIS: I almost made that my happy, actually. I agree with everything you said, Linda.
HOLMES: Yeah. So that is "Sharper."
THOMPSON: "Sharper." Nice. Thank you, Linda. So it's hard to say that this is what is making me happy this week, but I do want to close the show by acknowledging the incredible recorded legacy of composer Burt Bacharach, who died of natural causes on Wednesday. He was 94 - really considered rightly one of the most important composers of 20th century popular music into the 21st century. His hit songs included standards like "Say A Little Prayer," "Walk On By," "What The World Needs Now," "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head." You talk about songs that feel really like they've always been there, like they weren't written so much as, like, part of the elemental fabric of the universe. Bacharach won multiple Grammys and Oscars as well as an Emmy. It's really hard to sum up Burt Bacharach's legacy in just a few words. I mean, not very many artists provide a creative bridge from Perry Como all the way to Dr. Dre. But somehow Bacharach worked across that many eras, that many genres, that many voices, that many sounds, still with that deep, deep, keen melodic sense that really belonged only to him. He, among other things, was a fantastic collaborator. He wrote a lot of those songs - songs like "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," he wrote with the great Hal David. He wrote for Dionne Warwick and kind of provided so much of what made her sound kind of eternal. He wrote with Elvis Costello. I mean, if you look at the list of people who covered the song "Walk On By," you get a sense of just how much reach he had as a songwriter. That song was covered by Cyndi Lauper. That song was covered by Isaac Hayes. That song was covered by different people in different genres, and the melody remained intact. So I want to actually go out on just a little sample of just one of his many, many brilliant and indelible songs. Let's hear a little bit of Aretha Franklin covering "Walk On By" to take us out.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK ON BY")
ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) Walk on by. Walk on by.
THOMPSON: And that's what's making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. That brings us to the end of our show. Linda Holmes, Aisha Harris, Christina Tucker, thanks so much to all of you for being here.
HARRIS: Thank you.
TUCKER: Thank you.
HOLMES: Thank you.
THOMPSON: This episode was produced by Candice Lim and Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all next week when we will be recapping this year's Super Bowl.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK ON BY")
FRANKLIN: (Singing) ...The tears and sadness you gave me when you said goodbye. Walk on by.
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