Movie Review - Chocolate City

If you watched the hit film Magic Mike (2012) and wondered where were all the African-American strippers, then this movie, written and directed by Jean-Claude La Marre, answers that. It's basically a rip-off of Magic Mike but instead with all black men. As such, there are some things that are better than Magic Mike, and there are some things that are worse. The scales are tipped so that ultimately this movie's only selling point is that it puts black men on the big screen, particularly Robert Ri'chard who should be more of a star than he is, but other than that, this movie doesn't fly. Even worse, it's not sexy and is rather boring.

Unfortunately, the movie references Magic Mike way too much and its basic narrative is too similar to the Steven Soderbergh picture. That narrative is that a young guy having financial problems is lured into becoming a stripper at a male revue nightclub, which in the end messes with his life. Whereas Soderbergh was not much interested in watching the guys dance, La Marre is very much interested in it. Soderbergh instead wanted to tell a complex story with some nuance and depth. La Marre doesn't care about the story. La Marre just wants to see shirtless, black men gyrate and thrust on stage.

Robert Ri'chard stars as Mike McCoy, a college student who works as a line cook in a restaurant to help pay the bills. He's like Alex Pettyfer's character in Magic Mike, except La Marre makes Mike's circumstances way more depressing. Mike lives at home with his mom, Katherine, played by Vivica A. Fox, who can barely make ends meet, despite working two jobs. Mike also lives with his freeloading older brother Chris, played by DeRay Davis, who despite being in his thirties actively refuses to look for work, which would help his struggling family.

Michael Jai White co-stars as Princeton, a man who runs the nightclub called Chocolate City that features black and Latino, male exotic dancers. He's the Matthew McConaughey equivalent from Magic Mike. The opening of this movie is with Princeton on stage trying to rile up the women in the audience, just as McConaughey's character did in Magic Mike.

Later, there's a scene where Princeton teaches or coaches Mike McCoy how to dance, much like McConaughey's character did with Pettyfer's. It's a ridiculous scene because unlike Pettyfer's character who had no rhythm initially, Ri'chard's character absolutely knew how to dance right out the gate, his first time on stage. It's not just that Ri'chard's Mike McCoy had rhythm but his first time as a stripper isn't awkward. He's confident and totally like a natural, which is never explained or reconciled.

The problem is that after we see the first stripper dance, then every other stripper's dance is exactly the same. It's not like in Magic Mike where there are a variety of styles and different choreography. From group numbers to routines, involving sets and props and acrobatics, Magic Mike had fewer dances, but they were all mostly different. One memorable dance included umbrellas. Another had Channing Tatum doing an unbelievably fast and lengthy spin in mid-air. Conversely, the dances in this movie are all the same, over and over again. There are ironically more dances, but they're all repetitive, and it's boring.

It's not even stripping. Mostly the black guys will come out shirtless in leather pants or long chaps. They'll gyrate, do some pop-and-lock moves as well as a lot of pelvic thrusts. They'll then just repeat that incessantly. They'll grind on the ground or up against a woman until they get too sweaty and tired, and that's it. They might pull down their pants and briefly expose a buttock, but principally their crotches stay covered. No full-frontal nudity!

I'm sure La Marre did research, but for every dance, the women just throw cash onto the stage or at the guy in the center, even if he's not looking at them, or if the guy isn't even close to them. I thought the cash worked like tips or direct payment for the stripper to do something directly to a specific person. The way the women here just tossed money at the guys all willy-nilly, it was as if it didn't matter what the guy did. It just seemed like an inefficient way to pay these guys and it made the women seem rather empty, less like people and more like just ATMs.

Along with story, La Marre doesn't care much about characters. Aside from the names of some of the strippers, La Marre doesn't invite us to know more about them beyond the superficial. Soderbergh's film didn't go too deep into the other strippers, but, at least, we learned a little something about each of them. At least, we spend some significant time with the other strippers. La Marre does just drive-by characterizations. One stripper named Slayer is Latino and that's all we get to know about him.

One stripper whose name escaped me is played by R&B singer Ginuwine. Odd fact is that in Magic Mike, Tatum's titular character dances to a song by Ginuwine. Tatum dances to "Pony," which was Ginuwine's debut single back in 1996 and became a certified-platinum hit. Ginuwine in this movie dances to that same song, except it's no where near as good. Tatum out-dances Ginuwine to his own song. It's not aided by La Marre whose cinematography and direction of the scene is very flat.

Tyson Beckford plays Rude Boy. His character is simply the villain who hates Mike McCoy. There's no real explanation why, beyond Princeton's inexplicable obsession with Mike McCoy. The movie could have done something interesting with Rude Boy but again beyond his superficial hatred, La Marre's screenplay doesn't dig any deeper.

For example, I love Robert Ri'chard. He won an Emmy nearly twenty years ago when he was just a teenager. He's turned in great performances in film and TV shows. His best role was Feast of All Saints (2001) on Showtime, but this movie doesn't use him to his full potential. His character here hardly has any complexity or shading. He's a college student who takes French class, presumably just to be near a girl he likes or if he just likes French, which would have been interesting since Ri'chard is reportedly Creole in real life, but La Marre's script is so shallow that I couldn't even tell you what Mike McCoy's major was.

Finally, there is a scene where Princeton says, "We sell fantasy, not sex." He continues by saying, "What these women want is fantasy." Just like Magic Mike, it perpetuates this idea that women don't like or enjoy sex, even though every dance in this movie has the guys grinding and thrusting and licking at women's crotches, not giving them flowers.

In regards to women, Princeton says, "They don't want sissy boys. They want real men." His idea of real men is the buff and overly muscular guys who act hard, tough or aggressive. Of course, this hammers us again with the stereotype, the homophobic stereotype of how men should be.

Last year, Prince Fielder, the MLB player for the Texas Rangers, posed nude on the cover of ESPN magazine. Whatever backlash he got was met with overwhelming praise for his body, which isn't buff or overly muscular, but still beautiful. No, he doesn't have six-pack abs, but it doesn't change that Fielder is sexy and just as many women would appreciate him dancing on stage as men appreciate him swinging a baseball bat. Yet, La Marre doesn't get that.

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content throughout, partial nudity, language and brief violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.


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