September 27, 2023



Lackluster Comedy ‘Back on the Strip’ Fails to Impress Despite Wesley Snipes and Tiffany Haddish

Lackluster Comedy ‘Back on the Strip’ Fails to Impress Despite Wesley Snipes and Tiffany Haddish

This comedy film features the participation of J.B. Smoove, Faizon Love, Gary Owen, Bill Bellamy, and Kevin Hart as they come together for a reunion of a Black male stripper group.

Over the years, we’ve seen humorous male stripper films like “The Full Monty,” artistically driven ones like “Magic Mike,” and Black male stripper movies such as the “Chocolate City” trilogy. Now, we have “Back on the Strip,” another attempt to blend humor and drama within the captivating world of scantily clad men entertaining enthusiastic female audiences. This independent film, receiving a widespread release, certainly leans towards the comedic side of the spectrum, boasting an exceptionally talented cast with strong comedic chops. However, despite some entertaining moments, it struggles to find its groove, burdened by a tiresome romantic subplot that periodically halts the movie’s momentum.

At the heart of the story is Merlin (played by Spence Moore II), a young man whose name is a testament to his lifelong aspiration of becoming a magician. His loving single mother, Verna (portrayed by Tiffany Haddish), serves as the narrator, offering her unwavering support as Merlin pursues his dreams. She cheers him on as he takes the stage at a nearby talent competition. However, Merlin’s dreams take a hit when a group of white rappers intentionally disrupt his magic act, leading to a humiliating situation where his pants are literally pulled down. It’s in this moment of vulnerability that Merlin’s true talent is unexpectedly revealed.

The film was released on Friday, August 18th, and boasts an ensemble cast featuring Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Wesley Snipes, Gary Owen, J.B. Smoove, Faizon Love, Spence Moore II, Bell Bellamy, Raigan Harris, and Colleen Camp. Chris Spencer takes the helm as the director, while the screenplay is credited to Chris Spencer and Eric Daniel. With a runtime of 1 hour and 57 minutes, this R-rated movie promises an entertaining cinematic experience.

Fast forward four years, and we find Merlin employed as a clown who performs magic tricks at children’s birthday parties. Here, he once more unwittingly unveils his extraordinary manhood, leaving the moms in the audience captivated. However, an “uptight dad,” portrayed by Kevin Hart in a cameo role, isn’t quite as thrilled, providing the comedic superstar an opportunity to deliver a riotous tantrum before making a swift exit from the film.

Merlin’s troubles escalate when he discovers that his long-time crush and neighbor, Robin (played by Raigan Harris), is now engaged to Blaze (portrayed by Ryan Alexander Holmes), a social media influencer who lives up to his vocation by being exceptionally irritating. To lift her son’s spirits, Verna arranges for Merlin to embark on a one-way trip to Las Vegas, where she reconnects him with her old friend Rita (an incredibly humorous Colleen Camp), who manages the rather run-down “Vagrant Inn Vegas.” The inn’s neon sign has seen better days, with several letters burnt out, inadvertently spelling “Vagina.” This is just one of the many risqué jokes in the film, arguably more than necessary.

Rita grants Merlin the opportunity to showcase his magic act to a group of unenthusiastic female patrons during happy hour. Once again, he unintentionally highlights his remarkable endowment (which, when finally revealed towards the film’s conclusion, makes Boogie Nights’ Dirk Diggler seem inadequately endowed). His performance captures the attention of Luther (portrayed by the effortlessly cool Wesley Snipes), the former leader of The Chocolate Chips, a group of five Black male strippers who were once the hottest act in Vegas.

Now, let’s cue the reunion sequence, where Luther and Merlin embark on the mission of reassembling their old crew, each member having undergone significant life changes. Desmond, known as Mr. Body (played by Faizon Love), has notably bulked up since his dancing days. Amos, aka Mr. Slim Sexy (portrayed by J.B. Smoove), has taken a different path and is now a preacher who infuses some of his past dance moves into his impassioned sermons. Tyriq, aka Mr. Face (played by Bill Bellamy), has become a father to quadruplet daughters. Lastly, Xander, aka Dr. X (portrayed by Gary Owen), who once danced with his face concealed behind a mask, has transitioned into a real-life doctor. Interestingly, it turns out he’s not actually Black.

The four talented comedians who tackle these roles emerge as the film’s standout feature. They manage to extract laughs from the somewhat lackluster screenplay crafted by director Chris Spencer and co-writer Eric Daniel, often hinting at a heavy dose of improvisation. Their raucous interactions genuinely deliver humor, particularly in a scene where Xander nonchalantly exercises his white privilege while provoking a prejudiced cop.

However, “Back on the Strip” unfortunately loses its momentum shortly thereafter, becoming entangled in wearisome plotlines that involve Merlin and Blaze competing for Robin’s affection through various schemes, Amos’ marital issues, and a revelation from Luther’s past. The film faces additional challenges with Wesley Snipes’ character disappearing for extended periods, a sugary-sweet musical score that almost punctuates the bad jokes and the possibility that this might be one of the least titillating male stripper movies in cinematic history.

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Ralph Calaway