Back on the Stripimage credits: google

It won’t come as a surprise to know that the beginning of “Back on the Strip” was in the form of a parody of “Magic Mike.” I’m not saying that it happened, mind you. (The main character’s name is Merlin, not Mike, in the end.) But what else can be understood from the peculiar verbal basis of a collective indie comedy, where our protagonist is an ambitious magician who goes to Vegas with hopes of becoming the next David Copperfield? Instead, should he put his cane-twirling Chippendales-style male dancing on hold for a critique?

Parodying “Magic Mike” with a Magical Touch

The thing that makes “Back on the Strip” so delightfully entertaining throughout its two-hour runtime is that Merlin’s lame prestidigitator-aspirations aren’t his (it seems like co-writers Chris Sanders and Eric Daniel have seen plenty of Nicolas films), but the pitiful state of his fellow performers: a troupe named Chocolate Chips. That basic hook has allowed the filmmakers to assemble an A-list lineup for this C-grade endeavor. A diverse array of individuals, ranging from the talented Tiffany Haddish (portraying Merlin’s mother) to the esteemed Wesley Snipes (taking on the role of the team’s leader, known as “Mr. Big” and also by his true name, Luther), are fully engaged in the intricacies of the venture. So much so that Kevin Hart even has a cameo as a chameleonic chemist (be prepared to spot him) who emerges after Merlin’s disastrous flub.

Chocolate Chips Troupe: Unconventional Performers in “Back on the Strip”

How can it be kept humble? Merlin can’t be much of a magician, but he’s “blessed” with other gifts – the joke being that this clueless kid has missed his calling. Whenever he steps on stage, the audience starts oohing and aahing. Whether it’s an audition where his costume catches fire, revealing his emerging erection or a talent show where his rival lowers his pants in front of his whole school, the film makes a grand bargain of his humiliation (albeit on a large scale, withholding it from the audience in “Boogie Nights”). But is that really a stripper’s most valuable asset? In a nutshell, it holds practical value over the film’s elements, with the personalities of the dancers winning us over.

Diverse Personalities and Comedic Challenges

When Merlin enters the Cookie Club (a tight economy strip club), Luther’s attention is caught by the emergence of a new dancer and he decides to reunite the Chocolate Chips. Mr. Big – whose genetic similarity with Merlin (do the math) he counts on – had broken his leg in a car accident some time ago, so he doesn’t dance. Instead, he’ll work as an MC, relying on Merlin to headline, assuming his mother Rita (Colleen Camp) approves.

Back on the Strip trailer

All-Star Cast Shines in “Back on the Strip” – Tiffany Haddish, Wesley Snipes, and More

Instead of casting hot bodies, the film has sought out more classically bodied comics of yesteryear for a change to the norm – which has proven to be a better strategy. Think about it: unless you’re a regular at the strip club, your natural response to a burlesque show is probably anxiety-fueled laughter (and/or off-color jokes at the expense of the stud). “Back on the Strip” bends to that impulse, as Sanders treats routine as comedy set-pieces, preparing obstacles for each dancer, while mom Rita (Colleen Camp) empowers them.

A Notable Lineup Delivering Laughter

Bill Bellamy has reprised his role as Tariq, now a father staying home with four daughters. As Luther puts it, “A lot has changed since I saw you in bed with four girls.” The transformation with Demmand “The Body” (plus-sized comedy rave) is even more dramatic, which doesn’t look like its heavily Photoshopped poster from its former self. Charismatic Amos, aka Mr. Slim Sexy (J.B. Smoove), is still active but is now put to work as a priest. And everyone was shocked to find out that Dr. X (a very white Garry Owen) is indeed very white. Turns out, the con-stuffed charlatan found his way into his ranks… and wasn’t discouraged by the deceit.

Redefining Attractiveness: Body Positivity in “Back on the Strip”

In reality, none of these men would land a job taking their clothes off at the ultra-competitive, image-conscious Las Vegas strip – but they’d be far more entertaining than the bodybuilders lathered in baby oil. (Why go to the theater later when the sleazy thirst traps are giving it away for free on Instagram?) “Back on the Strip” is the kind of film that your friends, ladies’ night out, and fans of “Magic Mike XXL” will love, with a more nuanced perspective on things that make women feel sexy. I laughed hard when “Daddy” Tariq lifted a woman’s shirt and twisted it like he was doing laundry for his daughter. And I won’t forget seeing a transformed Demmand in a human Sunday soon enough, stripping himself of inhibition.

Embracing Diversity in Strip Show Entertainment

Back on the Strip
image credits: google

What doesn’t work is the magical subplot or the awkward romance between Merlin and lifelong pal Robin (Reagan Harris), who returns with a new lover, Blaze (Ryan Alexander Holmes), a viral internet stunt that threw a wrench in Merlin’s hopes of marrying Robin. Can he win her back? Will his new stripping career ruin his chances? And perhaps most importantly, what does the magician’s bunny glimpse look like in the opening scene?

Despite Hadish’s wall-to-wall description (in its most acerbic form), the film does the simple story an amateurish favor. After all, it’s the first film directed by Sanders with a thin team, and it brings laughs. Take away the gloss and glamor of a big-budget project and what’s left matters the most.

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