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Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)

21 Mar

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 sleeper hit “Magic Mike” was a winning film. It had a good mix of arthouse and mainstream appeals, it took the audience into the world of a male stripper who had other aspirations (it also helped that it was loosely based on its star Channing Tatum’s experiences as a stripper before he became an actor), and I’m sure it also spoke to a certain demographic that just loved to see scantily clad men put on a show in scene-stealing numbers.

I don’t think it needed a sequel, especially one as silly as 2015’s “Magic Mike XXL.” But it was enjoyable enough for what it was, and it was nice seeing Mike in a different light while returning to the spotlight for “one last dance.” (But I still think it would have been more interesting if Cody Horn’s love-interest character from the first film returned–I don’t know what fans were talking about in their hatred towards her.)

Now, over a decade since the original film, we have “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” which has a mix of the grittiness of the original and some of the wacky antics of the second. (But despite differing tones, all three films feel like they belong in the same universe. Credit for that goes not only to Soderbergh, who produced but didn’t direct the second film and returns to the director’s chair for this one, but also screenwriter Reed Carolin, who wrote all three.)

Maybe it’s because I admire what Soderbergh, Carolin, and returning star Channing Tatum bring to this franchise that I don’t mind the tonal shifts and I still rather enjoyed “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” even more than “Magic Mike XXL.”

When we first see Tatum’s Mike Lane in “Last Dance,” he’s a bartender for a catering company, after the global pandemic caused his furniture business to crash. (I like that this film shows us characters struggling in economic crisis, just as the original “Magic Mike” was a statement about the post-2008 economic crash.) In a fun little cameo appearance, Caitlin Gerard’s Kim returns from the original film as one of Mike’s former clients–Mike pretended to be a cop to put on a show for her. Kim works as a lawyer for business mogul Maxandra “Max” Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), who is hosting the fundraising event for which Mike is tending bar. When Max, who is depressed and struggling herself, hears of Mike’s former vocation (the stripping, not the furniture business), she invites him inside her luxurious Miami estate and pays him to give her a dance.

And does he ever, proving that even in his 40s, Channing Tatum still has some moves. He puts on a hell of a show for Max, and wouldn’t you know it–this is only the beginning…

Max pays Mike to accompany her to London for some time. (But nothing physical is to happen–how much you want to bet something physical does happen between these two? I joke, but Tatum and Hayek do share good chemistry together.) It’s only when Mike is in London with her does he realize why he’s there: to direct a stage show at a theater called the Rattigan, owned by Max’s divorced husband Roger (Alan Cox). Though reluctant at first, Mike accepts Max’s request to turn a stuffy period-piece romance into a wild male-stripper fantasy show with a message of female empowerment.

It’s very much “hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show” as Mike and Max bring in new dancers to turn this show into something special. But it’s not as flashy as you’d think–it’s surprisingly subdued in the scenes where they rehearse and put their all into it. Any other film, it’d feel more joyous–but this is “Magic Mike,” after all.

Although, the influence of “Magic Mike XXL” does come in a strange moment where the dancers must convince an uptight bureaucrat on a bus to approve the theatre renovations in preparation for the big finale. That felt a bit out of place in this film, but…eh. It made me laugh, so it gets a pass.

And the show, which takes up the film’s final act, is wild enough that it was worth the wait. It’s well-choreographed, well-shot, and rather exciting.

So maybe “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” isn’t as gritty or as sexy as the original film, but why criticize it as such? I enjoyed it more than “Magic Mike XXL,” which I liked for what it was, and I enjoy “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” for what it is. And even if I can see Mike and Max’s romance coming a mile away, I still applaud it. Mike deserves some happiness in his life–I think Salma Hayek Pinault can give it to him.

But you uptight “Magic Mike” fans better not cause her to be written off like you did for Cody Horn’s character! (Yeah, I don’t think I’ll get over that.)

They Wait in the Dark (2023)

10 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

To begin my review of Patrick (“I Am Lisa”) Rea’s new micro-budget horror film, “They Wait in the Dark,” I would like to mention how refreshing it is (for me, anyway) when a young child is terrified rather than enchanted by a mysterious, ghostly presence. Does that annoy anyone else, when a kid in a horror film is too dumb to believe this is more than some “imaginary friend”? (Remember Lights Out? The film in which the kid is too scared to sleep at night because of his mother’s malevolent “imaginary friend”? Could we get more of that, please?)

Well, in “They Wait in the Dark,” young Adrian (Patrick McGee) has one strange encounter with an invisible force during his first night in an abandoned house; the following night, he meets it again and repeatedly shouts at it to “GET OUT!”

But, of course, the kid’s mother doesn’t believe there’s anything haunting this house except for bad memories. So, there they stay. Let’s see what happens.

Adrian and his mother, Amy (Sarah McGuire, The Stylist), are fleeing from Amy’s ex-girlfriend, Judith (Laurie Catherine Winkel). We don’t get a lot of backstory of what led to Amy & Adrian’s situation (thankfully, filmmaker Patrick Rea’s script keeps us guessing), but we do get an idea what they’re avoiding as we get the sense that Judith is abusive and unhinged and we also see how good she is with a knife, as well as what happens when one unfortunate trucker catcalls her. (Oh, and Amy is treating what looks like a stab wound at her side. Yeah, I think it’s safe to assume Amy & Adrian are better off without Judith.)

Amy reunites with an old friend, Jenny (Paige Maria), who helps them get refuge at Amy’s old family farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It’s not Amy’s ideal hiding spot, but it’s also unlikely Judith will find them there. As more about Amy’s troubled past comes to light and her own parenting towards Adrian becomes questionable (for every moment she’s kind towards him, there’s a moment in which she’ll randomly snap at him), it quickly becomes clear to us (and to the kid) that there’s most likely something sinister dwelling in this house.

Who or what is to be feared the most? I love it when a supernatural thriller poses that question. It makes for a film that is as intriguing as it is disturbing, and “They Wait in the Dark” is no exception. The main reason for its effectiveness comes down to the character of Amy–most notably actress Sarah McGuire’s excellent performance as well as director-writer Patrick Rea’s careful guidance. Amy’s enough of a mystery to keep us wondering and enough of a human being to be engaging, and with more than enough complexities for McGuire to tackle head-on. It’s a remarkable character study.

When character and atmosphere share the same importance as terror and gore in a horror film is when I appreciate the filmmaker’s endeavors even more. (“They Wait in the Dark” was made for peanuts in rural Kansas. I can tell this was a labor of love for Rea and his cast/crew–and it looks great too, with help from cinematographer Hanuman Brown-Eagle.) But I don’t want to deny the fear factor either–for instance, the first (visible) sign of the haunting presence pushed me back into my seat the moment it appeared. (Very well-done jump scare.)

From the film’s mysterious opening to its eerie middle to its volatile finale, “They Wait in the Dark” kept me invested in these questions: which threat is to be feared more, whether Adrian will be safe or not, and even whether Amy is to really be trusted or not. I was not disappointed by the answers. And I was grateful to see that this film had a lot more on its mind than I was anticipating.