Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Down To Earth (2001)

Chris Rock stars in this remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, a film already revisited a couple of times before this outing, with sadly underwhelming results. The material has some added jokes about race, and creates potential for some bigger laughs by making the main character a struggling stand-up comic, but it ends up falling flat far more often than it succeeds.

Rock is Lance Barton, a young, funny guy who just can't seem to transfer that humour to his stage act. Yet he keeps trying. His main venue is going to be closing soon, which makes him desperate for one last shot to win over the audience there. Unfortunately, his plans are thrown into disarray when he's hit by a truck. It's all a big mistake, which an angel named Keyes (Eugene Levy) only realises when Lance is already in heaven. While they try to resolve the situation, Lance is offered a "loaner" body by King (Chazz Palminteri), another heavenly being who seems to be in charge. That body ends up being one that belonged to a wealthy, white businessman named Charles Wellington, III (Brian Rhodes). Lance has to use the body to pursue his quest for a spot at the upcoming stand-up event, while avoiding the dangerous scheming of Wellington's wife (Jennifer Coolidge), and his assistant (Greg Germann). And things become more complicated when he falls in love with Sontee Jenkins (Regina King), who hates him.

Down To Earth is a very frustrating film to watch. You can see moments when it might be able to step up a notch or two, when it could let Chris Rock rant and make the most of his power as a comedian. Sadly, those moments do nothing more than get close to something good before sinking back down to mediocrity.

The cast includes some great performers, especially in the supporting roles. Levy and Palminteri are both great fun as the angels trying to correct a terrible mistake, Coolidge does well with her usual mix of ditzy and wannabe-sexy, and Germann works very well alongside her. Mark Addy does okay as a perplexed butler, while Wanda Sykes steals a couple of scenes as a housekeeper who does very little to hide her disdain for her employer. Even John Cho raises a smile or two, despite his role amounting to little more than a cameo. Regina King is easy to like, and Frankie Faison is very likable as the manager who continues to see the best in Lance. The weakest link, unfortunately, is Rock. He seems neutered, at best, and just stilted and awkward, for the most part.

Directors Chris and Paul Weitz don't seem to put in any effort at all, while the script (co-written by about four people, including Rock and Louis C.K.) reeks of similar laziness during the many moments that aren't comedic. The love story angle just never feels real, despite the efforts that everyone goes to in order to make viewers forget that Regina King is supposed to be enjoying time with an elderly, white businessman.

It's actually a shame that this was such a missed opportunity, a star vehicle created around someone who never seemed comfortable as a leading man. I love Chris Rock, but I don't think his style and energy work when being forced into a package like this. Thankfully, we can always revisit him in the greatness that is Osmosis Jones.



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