In “Back on the Strip” Nostalgia Outweighs a Mediocre Script

Synopsis: A young man moves to Las Vegas to pursue his dream of being a magician, only to join a male stripper group.
Director: Chris Spencer
Stars: Spencer Moore II, Wesley Snipes, Tiffany Haddish, Bill Bellamy, J.B. Smoove, Gary Owen, Faizon Love

Several years ago, Eddie Murphy made his triumphant return in a film called Dolemite is My Name. Two years later, Murphy had another film called Coming 2 America. In both films, Wesley Snipes had supporting roles, and in both, his characters had plenty to do. With that in mind, many refer to Back on the Strip as a ‘comeback’ for Snipes. But once again, Snipes isn’t the lead in the movie. How can you come back when you’ve been here for years? (Sorry LL)

The lead in this film is Spencer Moore II, who plays Merlin, an aspiring magician. He has done some small performances, sometimes with success and sometimes not. His mother, Verna (Tiffany Haddish), encourages him to go to Las Vegas and give it a real chance.

At the same time, his childhood crush, Robin (Raigan Harris), gets engaged to Blaze (Ryan Alexander Holmes), an ‘internet sensation.’

Merlin heads to Vegas and his first attempt at live magic in Sin City goes up in flames . . . literally, but the incident reveals that he has a gift to be successful as a stripper. Wesley Snipes plays Luther, and he wants to bring back his old dance crew, The Chocolate Chips.

Once very popular on the strip., the group includes Amos, aka Slim Sexy, played by J.B. Smoove; Desmond, aka Da Body, played by Faizon Love; Tyric Cox, aka Da Face, played by Bill Bellamy; and finally Xander, aka Dr. X played by Gary Owen. Snipe’s Luther, known as Mr. Big, is the head of this troupe.

Many years have passed since they performed, but they reunite with Merlin, aka Hot Chocolate, stepping in for Luther. Amos is now a Pastor, Desmond’s body has grown, and he’s now plus-sized, and Tyriq is drowning with children. And it turns out that after all these years, the men discover that Mr. X . . . is white! The group members are in their 40s but still ready to show they can do it.

This film is a mixed bag. It’s great seeing veterans like Bill Bellamy and J.B. Smoove; both have had solid and memorable roles over their careers and can still bring the laughs.

Faizon Love’s film career has mainly been supporting parts, and it is no different here, but he is consistent. There are funny moments in this film, like the scene where the stripper attempts to appeal to what women want by folding clothes on stage.

Gary Owen is good, but the material, at times, is poor. At one point, his character proclaims, “I am privileged,” in a moment of revelation. The storyline of Merlin and his crush, Robin, is predictable and thus not overly enjoyable.

Tiffany Haddish, whose best work was Girls Trip, narrates part of the film, but most jokes she has aren’t overly funny.

For his part, Snipes, again in a supporting role, is good, but the material he has to work with doesn’t allow him an opportunity to shine. It’s a win, though, for Spencer Moore II, who got to work with great Hollywood veterans.

Without the nostalgic appeal of Snipes, Bellamy and Smoove, you might not enjoy this movie — there are funny parts but also very silly ones. This isn’t a comeback for Snipes, not even close, just another film on his otherwise impressive resumé.

For his feature film debut, Chris Spencer has made a decent movie, but his best is yet to come.

Grade: C+

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