“Back on the Strip,” is about a young man who wants to become a magician but keeps getting waylaid by clumsy, bumpy, inept routines and the love he feels for best friends forever, ambitious dancer Robin (Raigan Harris)
Back on the Strip movie review
Film: Back on the Strip
Cast: Wesley Snipes, J. B. Smoove, Gary Owen, Bill Bellamy, Spence Moore II, Tiffany Haddish, Raigan Harris, Faizon Love
Director: Chris Spencer
Runtime: 117 mins
“Back on the Strip,” is about a young man who wants to become a magician but keeps getting waylaid by clumsy, bumpy, inept routines and the love he feels for best friends forever, ambitious dancer Robin (Raigan Harris). The narrative recited by his sexually liberal single Mom, Verna(Tiffany Haddish), is jaunty and playful enough to keep it all light-hearted and enjoyable. Seeing that her son’s dream might not come true if he stays at home, she sends him off to Las Vegas, to an ex-colleague, Rita’s(Colleen Camp) ragged and rundown strip joint. A chance act by him brings in the moolah and Rita gets excited enough to try her luck again with her old crew who all wandered off into their own lives long ago. The middle-aged ex-strippers (Smoove, Snipes, Faizon Love, Gary Owen & Bill Bellamy) who once were famously called ‘Chocolate Chips,’ train the young man Merlin (Spence Moore II) to be an exotic dancer instead. The movie isn't actually about the Chocolate Chips though. That might have been a far more interesting gambit given the charisma of the actors on play. This one is about Merlin, his rather unrealistic career ambitions, and rather boring and uneventful romantic problems. Verna thinks Merlin is a brilliant illusionist who could wow audiences but what we see is someone mediocre and clumsy. And Spence Moore II, though likable, isn’t interesting enough to carry this movie through.
The script doesn’t take a logical route. While the strippers enjoy success and have even brought Rita’s joint a good price for a sell-out, Merlin continues to hope for success in his dream profession, and its all tied in with his love for Robin who has already moved on to get engaged with a you tube influencer, Blaze (Ryan Alexander Holmes)
The Chocolate Chips /strippers have interesting back-stories that don’t get fleshed out. They were stars in Las Vegas in the 1990s. Luther, aka “Mr. Big,” ( Wesley Snipes) had a career crash when a car accident shattered his leg. Amos (J.B. Smoove), has now become a hip-swinging preacher, Tyriq (Bill Bellamy) is a stay-at-home dad to four daughters he sired with his wife, a female bodybuilder, Desmond (Faizon Love), is a garage owner who's gained 100 pounds since his stripping days and Xander (Gary Owen) is a white Plastic surgeon with a successful breast augmentation clinic. Their stories were far more interesting than Merlin’s and it might have been far more entertaining to give vein to their life trajectories.
The performances are rather ordinary. Chris Spencer doesn’t do the helming a good turn either. Co-writing with Eric Daniel, he takes the plot to places it shouldn’t have ventured into. This feels more like a slap-dash indie comedy. But for the charisma of the aging stalwarts and the lightheartedness of the project, this may well have fired blanks. The jokes and sight gags are not in good taste but they do manage to bring on the laughs. The contrivances though might challenge even the most successful illusionist.
The coming together of an excellent ensemble of actors keeps this laughter project afloat. It’s an amiable, consistent comedy even though the story arc feels too cliched. The narrative creates an atmosphere of easygoing playfulness - thus allowing the aging strippers to come loose. It’s their clowning around that really keeps us invested in this comedy hoping to tap into the surreal.