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Head Of State

Like Richard Pryor before him, Chris Rock has struggled to bring the brilliance of his stand-up comedy into different, more lucrative media, with only intermittent success. Since the electric 1996 stand-up special Bring The Pain jump-started Rock's career, the Saturday Night Live vet has hosted a sometimes-brilliant but uneven pay-cable talk show (The Chris Rock Show), released albums combining incisive stand-up with groan-inducing skits, appeared in big-budget action movies (Lethal Weapon 4, Bad Company) and ambitious misfires (Dogma, Pootie Tang, Nurse Betty), and co-written a ramshackle vehicle (Down To Earth) for himself. His directorial debut, Head Of State, which he also co-wrote, picks up where the mildly amusing but shapeless Down To Earth left off, situating Rock in the fish-out-of-water slot and assuming, somewhat justifiably, that laughs will follow. Once again playing a slight variation on his stand-up persona, Rock stars as a do-gooder alderman who's tapped as the sacrificial replacement for a dead presidential candidate, in a Machiavellian plot to win over minorities. Rock's street-savvy Good Samaritan initially chafes under the constraints of opportunistic handlers Dylan Baker and Lynn Whitfield, but begins to come into his own once he throws away the script and ad-libs wisecracks straight out of The Chris Rock Show. The pasty-faced white establishment is predictably aghast, and an arbitrary scandal threatens to derail Rock's campaign, until the arrival of Rock's brother and vice-presidential candidate Bernie Mac gives both the film and the campaign a much-needed boost. Closer in tone to CB4 than The Candidate, Head Of State invariably goes for cheap laughs rather than social commentary. Only a bit more restrained and highbrow than Boat Trip, Head Of State subscribes to a reductive view on politics that has more to do with lowbrow comedy's slob-friendly populism than with the more scathing politics of Rock's stand-up. The result offers a smattering of big laughs and an overall tone of ramshackle likability, but considering Rock's talent and the film's potential for smart satire, Head Of State registers as a somewhat wasted opportunity.

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