Back on the Strip

Back on the Strip brings together an excellent ensemble of actors for a genial, good-natured comedy that nevertheless falls a bit short on laughs, thanks to one of the two main story arcs being cliched. Its central figure is Merlin (Spence Moore II), a budding magician who has long been in love with his platonic female friend Robin (Raigan Harris). He’s never worked up the gumption to confess his feelings. Merlin’s mom Verna (Tiffany Haddish) believes he should start actively pursuing his dreams. She convinces him to move to Las Vegas, where he might be able to find a way to turn his passion into an occupation.

That doesn’t turn out so well. An on-stage accident leaves him pantsless, revealing that he’s exceptionally well-endowed. What follows is an invitation to join The Chocolate Chips, a once-popular all-Black male striptease act. The group’s leader, Luther (Wesley Snipes), wants to reunite, adding this new member to the old lineup. He first needs to convince the others. Desmond “Da Body” Day (Faison Love) has put on more than a few pounds. Amos “Slim Sexy” Fowler (J.B. Smoove) is a pastor with marital issues. Tyriq “Da Face” Cox (Bill Bellamy) is a stay-at-home dad with four young daughters. And the mask-wearing “Dr. X” (Gary Owen) has a secret he’s trying to keep.

The Chocolate Chips eventually do join forces again. Merlin is tasked with learning to dance seductively for the first time. The others struggle to remember the moves, then to figure out how to make them look sexy with middle-aged bodies. Interpersonal problems between the members additionally come to light.

Back on the Strip is an example of a bad movie constantly intruding on a good one. When it stays in the Magic Mike/The Full Monty lane, it’s very enjoyable. Wesley Snipes gives a wonderful performance as the shrewd, sassy Luther, dropping colorful one-liners like the pro he is. Chemistry between the men is often amusing, too. Smoove and Love bicker humorously, and watching the Chips attempt to recapture their spark is fun. These actors know how to milk that idea for laughs. They’re terrific across the board.

But then you have the Merlin/Robin stuff that kills the momentum. Partway through, it’s revealed that Robin is engaged to a guy named Blaze (Ryan Alexander Holmes). He’s a social media influencer, meaning you get a lot of predictable jokes about Blaze playing to his online audience. Of course, he’s also a complete jerk, which leads to the bland, utterly predictable arc involving Merlin’s efforts to “save” her from marrying him. When a scene arrives showing Merlin and Robin effusively discussing the Dwayne/Whitley wedding episode of the sitcom A Different World, we know exactly what contrived ending the movie will pull out of its hat.

The rom-com portion of Back on the Strip doesn’t work at all. The portion showing Merlin gaining confidence in himself from his partnership with The Chocolate Chips does. Unfortunately, there’s quite a lot of the former here. It doesn’t entirely drag the movie down, but it does drag it down enough to make you wish there was significantly less of it and more of the guys regaining their mojo.

out of four

Back on the Strip is rated R for sexual material, language, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.