It takes Chocolate City, AKA the black Magic Mike, just under a minute to name-drop Channing Tatum’s $167 million-grossing male stripper opus.
“Y’all seen Magic Mike, right?” murmurs emcee and boss man Princeton (Michael Jai White), the Matthew McConaughey-esque proprietor of exotic dance club Chocolate City. “Now, we gonna add a little chocolate.”
The makers of Chocolate City are talking to us, too, since the urban knockoff is designed to ride Magic Mike’s proverbial leather chaps-strings all the way to the bank despite lacking Tatum, a studio budget, or the high gloss sheen of a Soderbergh behind the camera.
College student Michael McCoy (Robert Ri’chard) slings burgers part-time to keep the lights on in the house he shares with his widowed mother (Vivica A. Fox) and slacker brother (DeRay Davis). A chance meeting at a urinal leads to a more lucrative job offer at Chocolate City, where Mike takes the stage on amateur night, bares his rock hard abs, and adopts the name “Sexual Chocolate.”
Welcomed into the fold, Mike joins a motley crew of oiled-up Adonises with stage AKAs like Pharaoh, Bolo, Slayer, and the club’s top peacock, Rude Boy (Tyson Beckford). Muscles bulge. Egos flare. Carmen Electra DJs. In a few inspired sequences, scantily clad beefcakes gyrate directly into the camera, threatening to bust moves right into the audience’s lap. If only the filmmakers had the budget for 3D.
Chocolate City diverges most from the Magic Mike blueprint when writer-director Jean-Claude La Marre fleshes out the urban world of his hero, a promising young black man tempted by easy money.
Whereas Channing Tatum danced his way into an existential crisis of excess in Tampa, Ri’chard’s Mike wrestles with the morality of lying to his loved ones over his newfound cash flow between Sundays spent at church. Suffice to say no one ever worried that Tatum was saving up for his artisanal home furnishings start-up by running the streets doing shady business.
Like Tatum’s “Magic” Mike, this one is also struggling to balance his promising new career path with his budding romance with a strait-laced good girl. The kind who’d never be caught at a male strip show… until the night she’s dragged along to Chocolate City with gal pals and accidentally sees her beloved beau grinding female patrons’ faces into his crotch for tips. Oops.
The plot is derivative enough to feel familiar, but just different enough to be watchable, anyway—at home, on VOD, with a box of wine and a few girlfriends.
Moments of comic relief and even more pointed references to Magic Mike pop up in the movie courtesy of Davis as the slacker brother who assumes managership of Mike’s budding stripping prospects. He also drops the most provocative line of the film, suggesting that Chocolate City is reclaiming male stripping on behalf of an entire culture.
“This is our shit, man, we started this back in Africa,” he says. “That’s why we stayed naked all the time. You didn’t see Matthew McConaughey’s ass running through the jungle, did you?”
The low-budget R&B indie came together quickly, filmed in Los Angeles, and landed a release just in time to piggyback on early marketing for July’s Magic Mike XXL.
“This movie was in gestation for two-and-a-half years, but after Magic Mike it seemed a natural fit for the African-American female audience,” LaMarr told me last May when the film was first announced. “I researched the male exotic club scene and it’s massive across the country, with clubs specifically targeting middle-aged African-American women.”
La Marre rightly guessed that the Magic Mike Effect would open the door for more existential male exotic dancer tales. Here’s one that not only uses Ginuwine’s 1996 thirst anthem “Pony” to great effect—it also casts Ginuwine as one of Chocolate City’s shining stars, making his epic entrance by grinding for dollars to his own song.