DOWN TO EARTH
Director: Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz
Cast: Chris Rock, Regina King, Chazz Palminteri, Franke Faison, Eugene Levy
MPAA Rating: (for language, sexual humor, and some drug references)
Running Time: 1:27
Release Date: 2/16/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
There is not a single charming, endearing, original, effective, intelligent, or clever element in Down to Earth, a hopeless remake of Heaven Can Wait. To put it bluntly: this is a bad movie. Each scene grows in predictability and tedium as it progresses. Itís an exercise in formula, which isnít necessarily a bad thing. But Down to Earth is a poor exercise in formula. It basically meanders along, hoping that something it does will get a laugh.
Lance Barton (Chris Rock) is a delivery boy. No wait, heís a comedian. The opening bit about him being a delivery boy is shtick, and I mean that to be taken as literally as it can be. The opening sequence is a bit for Rock to do his shtick. There is no other point to it. It adds nothing to the plot, and actually detracts from it for a moment, because youíll wonder why itís never mentioned again. Lance isnít just any comedian; heís a bad comedian (heís nicknamed "Booey"). His agent Whitney Daniels (Frankie Faison) sticks by him, though, until one fateful night, Lance is hit by a truck while distracted by a woman. Suddenly, heís in heaven, and thereís a line to get in (the joke here is that heaven is like the eternal nightclub of the universe). We are introduced to two angels, Keyes (Eugene Levy) and King (Chazz Palminteri). After some debate, it turns out that Keyes inadvertently took Lance too early (heís obviously prone to mistakesóone of the few things that made me smile was a discussion about Keyes making Sinatra wait for a table). So to make it up to him, King offers Lance the opportunity to choose a body in which to be reincarnated.
The next sequence is a series of deaths, which leads me to one of my major problems with the movie. Death is taken so lightly here. Thatís not a problem in itself, but the tone should at least stay consistent. Itís all right that Lance dies and we follow him, but thereís something unsettling about a man jumping to his death presented for laughs. After some searching, Lance finds the body he wants, not because of appearance, but because the woman who distracted him is in the manís house. Sontee Jenkins (Regina King) starts out as an unnecessary character and is somehow placed in the position of leading lady. Thereís no reason for the woman who Lance falls in love with to be the same woman who distracted him except to conserve on extra characters. The body he chooses is of millionaire Charles Wellington
Once Lance is in the body, the movie makes its biggest mistake. It presents the idea that everyone except Lance sees Wellington, while Lance sees himself. Unfortunately, we see Lance too. Most of the comedy is lost, because it is Rock doing the jokes, not a middle-aged white man. The only time that we see the actual Wellington (Brian Rhodes, in what must be the most thankless role ever) is to emphasize the shock of the people around him. Of course, this is not a movie about peopleís reactions to Lance as Wellington. Itís a movie about Lance adjusting to Wellington. At least, it should have been if it wanted to get laughs. The relationship between Lance and Sontee suffers also because of this. There is no emotional arc or hook to the relationship, because whenever the couple movie ahead, we and King see Chris Rock, not a middle age white man. Rock gives as much energy as he can to the role, but there isnít enough material to keep it constant, and at many times, he looks uncomfortable.
The movie falls apart in other scenes too. There is a series of sequences involving the help-staff that is pointless. Wellingtonís wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and his associate (Greg Germann, of "Ally McBeal") are involved in a murder plot and an affair, and their scenes are predictable throw-aways of insults turning into lust. Lanceís major problem is that he has difficulty performing in front of an audience, but once heís in Wellingtonís body, the problem disappears, only to reappear when tension is needed in a certain situation.
It should be expected that Chris Rock will do a stand up routine or two, and the material here is definitely his lesser stuff. The movie leads up to a performance that is mildly amusing, but never hilarious. Now, if I could only say that about the movie itself.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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