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Head of State By Matt Singer
What a great idea; Chris Rock running for President. Rock, our country’s smartest and arguably funniest stand-up comedian, would make a great governor or senator, though I think he could probably use some government office experience before moving up to Commander-in-Chief. By that logic, Head of State should be a classic comedy. Unfortunately, it has fallen under the spell of something I have termed “The Chris Rock Effect” in which any movie that Chris Rock is in is invariably “not as funny as it should be.” Head Of State has a few good laughs, but not enough for a movie that not only stars our best comedian, but was co-written and directed by him as well. When all is said and done in 2003, this could very well be the worst movie of the year when compared to its potential.
Rock’s character, Mays Gilliam, becomes a presidential nominee when an anonymous party loses its current candidate when his plane collides head-on with the plane carrying his running mate. Mays is an alderman who happens to save an elderly woman from an exploding apartment building (You’ll have to see it to figure out what’s going on there), and gains enough temporary notoriety to bring him to the attention of the now desperate campaign managers (Lynn Whitfield and Dylan Baker). The party has no hope of winning, so they’re looking to cut their losses and set up respectability in certain minority groups for future elections.
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Rock manages to squeeze a few pointed observations into the movie - such as his devout opponent who laces his rhetoric with the line “God bless America... and nowhere else!” Given how spot-on that concept is, it is surprising that Head of State is largely absent of similar barbs at Washington. Rock, who filled comedy albums like “Bigger & Blacker” with tons of dead-on political commentary, is off his game. He should be capable of far smarter stuff than lots of old white people dancing to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” There are a few possible reasons why State is so tame. One, which I hope is far-fetched, is that Rock chose not to waste his best material on this movie when he believed, right or wrong, he could get away with less smart stuff. More likely, people at DreamWorks pressured Rock to tone down the film’s political agenda and just make “a fun comedy the whole family can love!” or some nonsense like that. It might not be the best time career-wise to be taking shots at the administration, but a movie this satirically dull can’t be great in the long run either.
Also, I feel I should warn you that though Bernie Mac has second billing to Rock, and features prominently in the film’s marketing campaign, his part is miniscule when compared to other less amusing supporting characters. His best line is ruined in the trailers (Responding to a Larry King-type who is asking his opinion on NATO: “I don’t know no NATO, I don’t talk about people behind their back!”), which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Someone needs to make a trailer where the main characters looks in the camera and talks to the audience saying, “Don’t you hate it when movies ruin everything in the trailer? Well we’re not going to do that here.” I would go see that movie.
All right, so strides have been made since Pootie Tang, but Chris Rock has a long way to go. Hopefully, forces were at work here beyond his control. I think he’s on the verge of another big hour long comedy special, and I for one hope he knocks it out of the park. Mediocrity like Head of State’s just does not suit him.