“Ya’ll seen Magic Mike, right? Well now, we gonna add a little chocolate.”
That’s the line delivered by Princeton (Michael Jai White) within the first minute of Chocolate City, right before the title pops up on screen. It’s a telling line, because Chocolate City comes across as a rather blatant attempt to draw in some of the same crowd who might want to see their ripped, stripping men be a little darker. It’s understandable for audiences to want to see something on screen that more accurately reflects themselves or their community. But in the rush to deliver a black version of Magic Mike, Chocolate City in most areas comes across as a cheap copy – even down to the main character’s name.
Most areas. To be fair, as solid a physique and dance skills as Channing Tatum had in that film, Chocolate City‘s Mike (Robert Ri’chard) manages to outdo whenever he takes the stage. The same goes for most of the dancers. Here, even though there’s definitely a solid age range of men dancing, the physiques are undeniably more on point than in Magic Mike. There’s also a good bit more touching and grinding here. Unfortunately, the direction of the scenes are a little flat compared to Steven Soderbergh’s work on Magic Mike, which brings the comparisons closer to a draw than an outright win for Chocolate City.
While the film is pretty predictable, it’s watchable at times thanks to not only the male bodies on display, but the charm of Ri’chard as Mike. When he’s not stripping, Mike is shown as a desperate college student who not only wants to be able to impress his girlfriend (Imani Hakim), but also help his widowed and working two jobs mother (Vivica A. Fox), who’s growing annoyed with her freeloading older son (DeRay Davis). When he gets invited by Princeton to contact him if he ever needs to make some money, he’s unaware that it’s for a stripping job – but it doesn’t take him long to accept.
Once Mike accepts the job, the story becomes particularly predictable. Obviously, he has to keep his job a secret from his mother and girlfriend. Obviously, there’s drama in the dressing room, especially when Mike’s success threatens the current top performer (Tyson Beckford). And obviously, there’s a repeated series of talks about the dancers delivering fantasies, not sex, from Princeton.
What’s more frustrating, though, is that the film includes a semblance of a religious element, solely to add to the idea that stripping is seen by some characters as shameful. The film fails to follow through with the line of thought, though, choosing instead to simply state the position. The film seems to accept the position to some degree as well, without explaining why outside of “some things are more important than money.” At least, some amounts of money.
With Magic Mike XXL hitting theaters in just over a month, Chocolate City doesn’t have a lot of time to distinguish itself from the competition. To be fair, though, the film doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to provide distinguishing elements beyond the color of skin. There are worse things to do, but it still doesn’t make Chocolate City worth watching beyond the dance scenes.