30 July 2003 | argv
Chris Rock could -- and *should* -- do much better
Chris Rock has made an interesting name for himself. He's a black comedian who's been in almost 60 feature films; a writer and co-writer for movies and TV shows like Saturday Night Live; and is a man with strong political opinions. So, with all that talent and experience, you'd think that if he were to write and produce a political satire, it'd be a mix of biting comedy with a message.
If only that were the case with `Head of State.' Instead of biting satire poking fun at the political system, there's a collection of gag jokes that, in themselves are funny, but neither politically pertinent or satirical in any way. What's more the romantic-comedy subplot is way too prominent, elbowing out the main theme of the film.
Rock plays Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C. alderman, who's a man of the people. He not only does good things in his neighborhood, but even the drug dealers like him. When the existing democratic presidential candidates unexpectedly die, Gilliam finds himself selected by the party to replace them, all in the name of a politically ambitious underling who sets up Rock to lose in hopes of securing the nomination in the next election. Through a series of gags and mishaps, Gilliam not only gets elected, but gets the girl too.
The film certainly has the gags, many of which are genuinely funny. In fact, if it were all gags, a la `Airplane' and `The Naked Gun', then Rock's film would have been surprisingly refreshing. But, the humor was diluted by attempts at a serious side both on the political front and the romantic front and the script fails to know when one ends and the other begins. What's more, the serous or romantic sides to the film, gags notwithstanding, were just plain silly.
It's not that the formula doesn't work. It's been done many times before, such as `Dave', starring Kevin Klein, and Warren Beatty's `Bulworth'. In each case, the `candidate' was unlikely and over the edge, but their straight talk and unconventional approach to politics appealed to the people and resonated with movie audiences. In essence, using this theme as the platform for satirical poignancy was very effective (from an entertainment perspective, not necessarily as a valid social commentary). In the end, the reason these films worked is because it was clear where the gags end and the seriousness begins.
On a separate note with respect to today's current events, I couldn't help but notice that it's because of reality that this movie is actually more disturbing than it should be. In fact, it harkens back to the good old days of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Back then, people didn't take politics or world events seriously at all, as evidenced by the fact that we had actual, serious attempts at the presidency from people such as Donald Trump, Ross Perot, and yes, even Warren Beatty. You'd never see those names in mainstream press in today's environment. Perhaps `Head of State' should have been released during a time when society's perception of politics and the presidency wasn't so important. But today, it's just plain eerie and disturbing.