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IN SHORT: Not heavenly. [Rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor and some drug references. 85 minutes]
We don't compare to Source Material, and there's a whole lot of it to compare to in this particular case, detailed above.
Bike messenger Lance Barton (Chris Rock) has dreams of being a big time stand up comedian. He works at local clubs and is a regular on Amateur Night at the legendary Apollo Theater up in Harlem. He's funny off the stage, freezes up on and always "gets the broom". As Down to Earth begins, Lance's mind is filled with thoughts as to how to get on the bill for the final night of the soon-to-close Apollo. It's also filled with a vision of the lovely Sontee Jenkins (Regina King) who is crossing his path from one side. On the other side, unfortunately, is a really, really big truck.
And standing in the middle, stopwatch in hand, is an angel named Keyes (Eugene Levy) who whisks Lance off this mortal coil a tenth of a second too early. Facing the fact that a soul has been grabbed forty years too soon, boss angel King (Chazz Palminteri) offers Lance his choice of bodies to inhabit. Lance is a picky sucker and there is nothing that fits his demographic needs. So the heavenly helpers offer him a temporary abode, until something more suitable can be found. The body he gets belongs to a 53 year old white male named Charles Wellington (Brian Rhodes), the fifteenth richest man in the world, who has just been murdered by his wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and private secretary (Greg Germann).
When Sontee sweeps into Wellington's life, as an adversary, the middle aged white body with an African-American mind asks her "for a movie. Or a meal. Anything." When she says "yes" and the Angels swoop in with a permanent, and more racially correct body, Lance says "No. Thank you." While our mismatched couple dine at New York's legendary Gray's Papaya, black thinking Lance/ Wellington hears a rap song he likes and starts to sing along. Unfortunately for him, it is Wellington that everyone sees spouting the [n] word at the top of his lungs.
We could say snide something like "if you're going to put the [n] word into a song, don't get insulted when a white guy starts singing along. Rap is popular. Get used to it." What we will say is that this is the kind of satire that Rock does best and it is completely buried and lost in Down To Earth. It's easier to understand the situation when rich, white Wellington takes the stage at "his" old comedy club, he finds that Burton's material falls flat. Well, duh.
This satirical material is what Chris Rock does in his sleep. Why this movie is stifling and unfunny is one of the biggest mysteries of the year. It isn't just that Rock is stiff on the stage his character is supposed to be it's that actor Rock is stiff almost the whole damned time. He doesn't loosen up for a good hour. We checked our watch. We wish we had checked out early, but sitting through these things is our job.
It's one thing when you target your demographic audience with the precision of a laser beam, which is the case here. It's quite another when you've built a career that crosses lines of race and shut out half your audience. While Rock is the funny man, most of the audience laughter came at the choice of the soundtrack music -- obviously rap listeners know something that this middle aged white guy doesn't. But Rock has demonstrated a humor that can be universal so we were baffled that there was only one belly laugh in the whole of Down To Earth.
No, not baffled. The script feels as if it's been put together like a jigsaw puzzle. It's fairly apparent that either Rock or the rarely seen Rhodes can't lip-synch because we see the white body only in bursts of a second or two. We could count the number of those appearances on one hand. The supporting characters, especially Cisco the butler (Mark Addy) and Wanda the Maid (Wanda Sykes) get more gags than any of the principals.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Down to Earth, he would have paid...
Rental level, but only for the target demographic. Under the direction of brothers Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, who may have just shown that their American Pie was a fluke, this movie meanders about until the end credits mercifully roll up the screen.
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