The strippers were stars in Las Vegas in the 1990s. They called themselves The Chocolate Chips. Wesley Snipes is the leader, Luther, aka “Mr. Big,” whose career ended when a car accident shattered his leg. J.B. Smoove is Amos, a preacher by day, and righteous. Bill Bellamy is Tyriq, a stay-at-home dad to four daughters he sired with his wife, a female bodybuilder. Faizon Love is Desmond, a garage owner who’s gained 100 pounds since his stripping days. Gary Owen is Xander, a white doctor with a successful breast augmentation clinic who, back in the day, fooled the other Chocolate Chips into thinking he was Black (more on that in a moment). Any of these actors has more charm and comic timing in his pinky toe than most actors have in their whole bodies. The film benefits enormously just putting them all together onscreen and watching as they get the old “band” back together, work through differences that split them up, and bust each other’s chops with the easygoing intimacy of brothers. (Kevin Hart’s name is on the poster, but he only has one scene; it’s a good one.)
Unfortunately, the movie isn’t actually about the Chocolate Chips. It’s about young Merlin (played by Spence Moore II) and his career ambitions and romantic problems. Will he get his dream job and capture the heart of his dream girl? You know the answer, and the movie knows you know the answer. But it still stays focused on Merlin, to the point where “Back on the Strip” turns into a modern equivalent of one of those old Hollywood studio movies that built a project around veteran movie comedians that audiences actually came to the theater to see (such as the Marx Brothers) but subordinated their clowning to a love story between a couple of comparatively bland leads.
When we meet Merlin, he’s a high school senior in Los Angeles who’s madly in love with his best friend and magic assistant Robin (Raigan Harris), one of those cheerful, poised, beautiful, smart ciphers that lovable, ambitious heroes often have in comedies. Merlin wants to go to Las Vegas and hit big as an illusionist, and tells Robin about his goal. Alas, his performance at the high school magic show is ruined by his own mistakes, then by the treachery of one of his rivals, the leader of a group of all-white self-styled gangsta rappers from Beverly Hills, who pulls down Merlin’s pants and underwear onstage. Thus do we learn of Merlin’s true gift: a member so enormous that when we see it tucked into his underwear, it looks like a kielbasa folded in half.