TV Review - Chocolate City: Vegas Strip

Two years ago, Chocolate City was released. It was basically Magic Mike but featuring mainly African-American men in the cast. I laid out the problems with that film in my review of Jean-Claude La Marre's black stripper movie. With his sequel, he fixes none of those problems. If anything, he doubles down on what was problematic about the inital film. The first of which is its blatant rip off of Magic Mike. The story in the previous film was almost beat-by-beat what happened in that quasi Channing Tatum biopic. For this second installment, it's almost a beat-by-beat rip off of Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to the Steven Soderbergh hit. In Magic Mike XXL, a group of guys hit the road to a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach where there are other strippers performing opposite each other. Here, a group of guys also hit the road to a stripping competition in Las Vegas where there are other strippers performing. The difference is that the group here is trying to win money to save their strip club back in Atlanta.

However, La Marre name-checks another film and basically makes it known he's not ripping off Magic Mike XXL, as he's ripping off Bring It On (2000). He admits that his film is basically the naked, black male version of that hit comedy. The 2000 film was about cheerleaders dancing in a cheerleading competition. Here, it's strippers dancing in a stripping competition. There is even a plot point in Bring It On that La Marre copies in this movie, except what that 2000 comedy had that this one doesn't are developed characters, or at least ones that you care about. Characterization is instead very thin here.

This could be forgiven because essentially the point of La Marre's movie is to show sexy black men with their clothes off as they thrust and gyrate on a stage for horny or randy women. It would be totally fine if this movie was basically like watching an extended episode of So You Think You Can Dance, the reality competition on FOX. It's not as good as watching that show because the dancers in that show are actual dancers. The dancers in this film are actors pretending to be dancers or pretending to know how to dance when they kinda don't. Of course with practice, a person can be taught a routine or a piece of choreography, but that doesn't make that person a dancer in the truest sense, and even if they trained long enough to become dancers in the truest sense, the choreography here doesn't do any of them justice.

I was more entertained by YouTube clips of 2017's Broadway Bares. It might be unfair to compare skilled dancers on Broadway to guys in a strip club who most likely have no formal training and haven't learned the kind of intricate choreography that is standard for a Broadway show, so the question is why watch? La Marre answers that question early on. The reason to watch is underscored in a long sequence of close-up shots of the black men's bodies. We don't see their faces. All we see are their bare torsos, either flexing pectorals, bulging biceps or rippling abdominal muscles. If guns and six-packs are all you came to see, that's all you're going to get. If you came for anything else, tough luck.

In a later scene, a character reinforces that what they're doing is more about bodybuilding than it is dancing. We see an extended sequence of the guys in the gym lifting weights. Little, if any time is spent watching them learn the dance moves. Unfortunately, this isn't enough. If it were, then why bother with the pretense? Why don't the guys just walk out, stand on stage and flex their muscles? The women or spectators would get just as much out of it.

The climactic dance here involves the guys in baseball uniforms and baseball bats in hand. The routine is so weak that it's tantamount to them just standing and posing like bodybuilders with their baseball bats swinging in hand. It's not even done to a full song. It's barely a minute in length and it ends with them swinging the bats between their legs, implying what's underneath their pants, which they never take off. The entire routine only goes as far as them taking off their shirts. How is that satisfying to the women in that room who applaud like robots to anything? In fact, most of the routines end with men who take their shirts off only. At least in the Broadway Bares videos, the men strip down to thongs and even take those thongs off. They don't show their penises. They artfully hide them, but at least they do actually strip off everything. The guys in this movie don't even do that.

R&B star Ginuwine reprises his role as Pharaoh, a stripper who headlines his own show in Las Vegas before the guys from Chocolate City arrive there for the stripping competition. At one point during the competition, Pharaoh does go Full Monty, meaning he exposes his penis. We don't see it, but apparently the people in the audience do. This is a ridiculous moment because the stripping competition is depicted as happening on live TV. Pharaoh exposing himself like that would cause a meltdown worse than Janet Jackson's so-called wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show. Yet, it's just brushed aside in this film like it didn't really matter.

Apparently, the upper body of a man is what's important and his aesthetic must be similar to that of the Chippendales who make sure all their guys have bodybuilder-like torsos. If that's so, La Marre's sequel makes an odd detour that's appreciated but never fully explored. La Marre is an actor in this movie. La Marre plays Pastor Jones whose son is Carlton, played by Marc John Jefferies (Chapter & Verse and Losing Isaiah). Carlton wants to be a stripper at Chocolate City as well, but his father disapproves somewhat but not really. La Marre's script never really makes an issue out of it that's worth caring about or even acknowledging. Never mind Carlton's age though, he doesn't exactly have that Chippendales-type body.

In my review of the first film, I argued that the standard for male beauty shouldn't be a Chippendales-type body. I commented that it would be nice to see a person like Prince Fielder up on that stage. Prince Fielder is the baseball player who is very athletic but he doesn't have a six-pack or the kind of muscle definition of Robert Ri'chard (The Feast of All Saints and Coach Carter) who reprises his lead role here of Mike McCoy, the college student and part-time stripper at the Chocolate City nightclub. Jefferies has a body more like Fielder than Ri'chard. Ri'chard is more likely to be on the cover of Men's Health or Fitness magazine. Jefferies has no such musculature. He's not fat but he could reasonably be called somewhat chubby.

This is and should not be a criticism to him or anyone in the real-world, but given the world that La Marre establishes here, why no one points out Carlton's body type not being like any one else's is a little odd. If La Marre instead didn't want it to be an issue, then it makes no sense why someone among the main Chocolate City strippers isn't also chubby or at least without the guns and six-pack that everyone else has. Everyone else looks like they live in the gym. Even the Broadway Bares video had people of all body types stripping. It made no judgements in that way. I applaud this movie for having Jefferies in the mix, but during his brief time on stage, he never takes off his shirt. He remains in his cowboy garb, mimicking the Sexy Chocolate persona from the first film, but never giving Jefferies' body the same exposure as Ri'chard's is unfortunate.

Speaking of bodies with little exposure, during the stripping competition, my favorite was actually an unnamed group of five Asian guys. Unfortunately, as in general, these Asian men are underrepresented. Literally, the Asian strippers are only on screen for ten seconds and then never seen again, but from that ten seconds, it looked like they had the most interesting routine, which incorporated martial arts into their dancing. It's a shame that La Marre doesn't give them more screen time. Instead, we get more from a mostly white group of strippers doing a Strictly Business interpretation.

It doesn't even seem worth talking about this film's story, as its characters aren't developed enough for one to care about the story. Mike has a test he has to take. His mom has bills to pay, but who cares? This movie certainly doesn't. The other strippers in Chocolate City are name-dropped but mostly they're just background, non-important. The movie does try to make something out of Bolo, played by Michael Bolwaire (pictured here). Bolo considers leaving the Chocolate City group but his arc is so lazily and sloppily handled that one ends up not caring about it at all. Mekhi Phifer (Soul Food and ER) plays a guy who might be the Matthew McConaughey of this film but not really. He's wasted for the most part. The female characters in this movie are treated with so little regard as to be practically wasted too. Vivica A. Fox reprises her role from the first, but she's not used to her full potential, even as La Marre strains to have her in the narrative.

Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.

Aired on BET on July 1.
Available now on Netflix.

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