28 February 2001 | dfranzen70
Chris Rock stars in this remake of Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait (itself a remake of the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan), a comedy about a man who dies before his time, before he can realize his dreams, and his adventures in his new (albeit temporary) body. In the Beatty version, the protagonist was a backup quarterback for the then-Los Angeles Rams. In Rock's hipper version, our lead character is a struggling young - and decidedly low-talent - standup comedian.
It's very funny to see the razor-sharp Rock playing a bad comedian. It's kind of like seeing Tom Hanks play a bad actor. Lance Barton's dream is to play the legendary Apollo Theater on a non-amateur night. But every time he tries out his material, he's booed off the stage lustily - so much so that his nickname becomes "Booie." His jokes are lame, his delivery painful. In short, Lance is everything that the real Chris Rock isn't.
Lance is also a bike messenger, and he's riding the streets on his way to try out even more material when BAM! He's hit by a truck. Ok, so maybe he was taken from his body a tenth of a second early by a slightly incompetent angel (Eugene Levy), but hey, he was going to get hit anyway. No dice, it appears Lance isn't due in Heaven until 2044. So what to do? Mr. King (Chazz Palminteri), the "manager" of Heaven, reluctantly agrees to find a new body for the not-quite-dead Mr. Barton. Trouble is, the body they find is of a greedy, old white man. Turns out this fella (a Mr. Wellington) owns all kinds of things - he's the 15th richest man in the country! What luck! You can imagine how Lance will turn things around.
But of course, while in the body of the affluent Mr. Wellington, Lance falls for a gorgeous hospital worker (Regina King). We males know how tough it is to find a female given our own body, but try winning one over while you're an dumpy, old white guy! And it's even worse when she's not impressed by your money.
This is Rock's first shot at a lead role, and in my opinion he performs admirably. There's still a lot of the standup comedian in him - and, of course, if he ever wants to get diverse roles, he might have to stop incorporating standup routines into the script - but this isn't really a bad thing. Rock's personality - his drive, his delivery, his demeanor, and his passion - are what fuel this film. He's clearly having a lot of fun in the role, and he seems bent on making sure you have fun watching him.