Down To Earth

**

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Chris Rock is the funniest black actor since Eddie Murphy. Remember his hip angel in Dogma and mean contract killer in Nurse Betty?

Now, he does his own thing, with a little help from Warren Beatty and the writing crew from Emmy-award-winning The Chris Rock Show on TV. For brothers Chris and Paul Weitz this is their first directorial feature since American Pie.

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Everything is in place for a stylish, comic treat. It doesn't happen. The concept, based on Beatty's Heaven Can Wait from 1978, is as soggy as it ever was.

Lance Barton (Rock) is a bicycle messenger in Harlem, whose dream is to play The Apollo as a stand-up comic. He may be a nice guy, but his material stinks and when he goes on stage he is booed off it.

Next day, he's run over by a truck and ends up at the pearly gates, which are neither pearly, nor gates, but a glamorous Fifties nightclub, called Heaven, run by Mr King (Chazz Palminteri) and his sidekick, Mr Keyes (Eugene Levy of the two left feet from Best In Show).

Lance hasn't a clue what's going on. All he wants is to get back down there in time for the final closing amateur show at The Apollo. He makes a deal with King for a body swap, at first on a temporary basis, until a suitable full-scale reincarnation can be arranged.

The body they choose is that of Charles Wellington, a fiftysomething billionaire, who has just been murdered by his wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and personal assistant (Greg Germann).

Wellington is white, podgy and a business shark. Lance is black, skinny and a soft touch. Rather than have Wellington come back to life with Lance's voice and mannerisms, which, in the right hands - Charles Grodin, for example - would have had comic potential, Rock appears as himself, although everyone else sees him as Wellington. Confusing? It is.

Lance-as-Wellington falls in love with Sontee (Regina King), an activist battling his company, for purchasing a public hospital in the Bronx, with the intention of throwing out the poor sick people and bringing in rich private patients. Of course, Lance changes all that, much to the fury of his board, and her heart melts.

The racist jibes aren't sharp enough. The love story beggars belief. The bad-comic-makes-good after a couple of body swaps is pushing reincarnation too far. The angel jokes fall flat and the slut wife-killer sub plot is thrown away.

All that's left is the man. Rock's persona is sympathetic. He's the little guy, baffled by wealth, trying to do the right thing. The material this time is not worthy of him. He deserves better, even though he co-wrote the script.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2001
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Budding black stand-up comic is killed and comes back in the body of a nasty white billionaire.
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Director: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz

Writer: Chris Rock, Lance Crouther, Ali Le Roi, Louis CK

Starring: Chris Rock, Regina King, Chazz Palminteri, Mark Addy, Eugene Levy, Frankie Faison, Jennifer Coolidge, Greg Germann

Year: 2001

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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