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Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4
In DOWN TO EARTH, Chris Rock plays a struggling standup comic, Lance Barton,
whose jokes -- "I know this gal so ugly she had to wear makeup on the radio"
-- have been dying. As he tries to get ready for his life's dream, a slot
at the amateur night in the last show at the famous Apollo theater, he ends
up even deader than his material. Not one to let a technicality like a
heavenly address get in his way, he negotiates with the heavenly powers
(Chazz Palminteri and Eugene Levy) to insert him into another earthly body
so he can play his big gig. For the record, the hereafter looks like a big
If this plot sounds familiar, it should. DOWN TO EARTH is a remake of the
1978 film HEAVEN CAN WAIT, starring Warren Beatty. That film, confusingly,
was itself a remake, not of the 1943 film HEAVEN CAN WAIT, but of the 1941
picture HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. Now that we've gotten that straightened out,
we can proceed.
Young, black, slender and poor Lance ends up in the body of Charles
Wellington, a pudgy, white billionaire who is supposed to be 53 but looks a
decade older. Once in his new skins, Lance finds that he sees himself, but
everyone else still sees Charles's body. The audience sees Lance, except
for a few scenes when Charles is rapping or joking with black humor, as
blacks stare at him in disbelief and dismay. At those times, the audience
sees this old white guy disconcertingly trying to act black.
Lance transforms Charles from vicious capitalist into kind philanthropist.
It isn't quite as magnanimous as it sounds, since Lance starts his giving as
a way to impress Suntee (Regina King), a community activist who opposes
Charles's plans for Brooklyn Community Hospital. Charles, the 15th richest
man in the world, wants his hospital to boost profits by turning away people
without insurance. In a dazzling performance for the cameras at the
hospital's board meeting, Lance, as Charles, declares, "Shot in the head,
you get a bed." No one notices that Charles's lingo suddenly sounds
downscale. "Drive home safely, tip your waitresses," he tells his board
when he leaves. "I gotst to go."
It's a good natured story, and Rock radiates a sweet likeableness
throughout. But, the bottom line is that the movie is basically one long
Chris Rock comedy routine. If you like his shtick, you'll probably like the
movie. For my taste, some of his jokes are cute, but most don't quite
click. Not a bad movie. Think of it as a near miss.
DOWN TO EARTH runs 1:27. It is rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor and
some drug references and would be fine for kids around 9 and up.
My son Jeffrey, almost 12, gave the movie ** 1/2, saying that some of the
jokes were funny but many weren't. He mentioned several structural problems
he had with the script, especially the way the last act and the ending were
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes