Down to Earth (2001)

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 02/17/01 12:17:10

"A sometimes funny romance with an identity crisis"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Down to Earth is a Chris Rock vehicle. If you like Chris Rock, you’ll get plenty of his stand-up material .. This film would have been better as a romance about a comedian but the way he “gets the girl” is frankenplot. Chris Rock stand-up material and great romantic screen chemistry is the good 2/3 of this film. Frankenplot and too many complications are the bad 1/3.

Lance Barton (Chris Rock), a stand-up comedian, is killed prematurely and makes a deal with the manager of heaven to go back to earth. King, the manager of heaven, tells him he can’t have his own body back. So Lance ends up posessing the body of the 15th richest man in America, Mr.Wellington and falls in love with Sontee (Regina King) who is fighting against him to save a hospital.

Down to Earth is targeted to a black audience to make fun of white people appropriating black culture. It also tries to be political and talk about race and class and culture. The editorial polemic about race (and class and even fur, for crying out loud) may just be hooks to draw in the the black audience (and the poor audience and the PETA members of the audience), but it doesn’t need to try to hook anyone if it would just be what it is, a romance.

Brewsters Millions (starring Richard Pryor) was a great movie about a poor guy who becomes a millionaire but has to spend it all to get even more. Brewster ends up falling in love with his bleeding heart liberal accountant who will have nothing to do with him because he appears to be completely uninterested in how much he can improve other people’s lives with his new money. In the end he gets the girl because she sees his real intentions. In Down To Earth, instead of basing a whole film on this premise, its just one small part of a plot that cranks its neck backwards and then looks through its legs to see where it needs to go. Even Trading Places (Starring Eddie Murphy) was a better film about rich white guys and poor black people. Two black comedians with crossover appeal drove those two film with their popularity and their acting ability. Chris Rock can act, but by making this film about a bad stand-up comedian, starring a very funny comedian, it shot out its heart and then magically restored it while the audience was distracted by all the confusing situation comedy.

And white people doing a bad and uninentional parody of black people, just isn’t funny and Down to Earth can’t even make up its mind about this. Maybe Spike Lee can do a film about Blackface but its not funny as a routine. In one scene, Wellington gets clocked by some brothers for singing along to a song that includes the words “nigger”. He wonders why this happens and Santee says “do you think it would be funny if I said “Whitey gonna ride, whitey gonna die”?” And I’m the audience and I didn’t think there was anything either offensive or funny about it. Later Wellingtons estranged wife (Jennifer Coolidge) is dressed like, I don’t know exactly, I think her look is supposed to be “black” but she looks like a cross between a raver and an aerobics instructor and she is shaking her ass and using hip hip style lingo. Its just not a pretty sight but the audience is supposed to now think that white people acting black is funny. I felt like the film was telling me, as a white person, to leave black culture alone, but then to laugh along at the appropriation of black culture. I was just confused and became much happier when we got back to scenes developing the romance.

There are many funny scenes in this film. Rock spends a good time on screen doing stand-up. Lance is mysteriously changed from a bad comic to a good one without much explanation. Wanda Sykes as the spiteful and acid-tongued maid of Mr.Wellington/Dead Lance, is welcome relief from a mediocre and pedestrian plot development.

Now if this was just the Chris Rock show, it would be great. And if it was a romantic comedy without such a complicated premise, it would be great. Down to Earth tries to be too many things for too many people and ends up being like a pair of siamese twins that don’t get along. Hack them apart and they’d be happy.

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