Head of State
**.9 GM
Starring: Chris Rock, Bernie Mack, Tamala Jones, Lynn Whitfield, Dylan Baker, Nick Searcy, James Rebhorn, Robin Givens, Tracy Morgan, Stephanie March, Mario Joyner


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Chris Rock, I really dig you, and I'll let some shit slide since this is your first time directing anything, but you have to agree to GET BETTER at this. I want to see GOOD Chris Rock movies, (not to mention a big-budget Pootie Tang) and you're not quite there yet.

That's not to say this film isn't enjoyable, though. It's an idea long overdue, actually. Rock plays an altruistic Washington, D.C. alderman named Mays Gilliam who gets tapped to run for president when the real candidate dies a couple months before the election. He's picked as a surefire loser that'll look like a good progressive move when the next election comes around, and the safer honky (Rebhorn) runs. Trouble is, when Gilliam starts speaking his mind, people identify with it, and he actually picks up enough steam to potentially defeat the 'defending vice president' (Searcy), a Republican moron whose catchphrase is "God bless America, and no place else." That's amusing, although it gets beaten into the ground later.

Here's what's good about this movie. The idea itself is golden, and is something I'd like to see done in a drama as well as a comedy. There are some really good bits from Gilliam on the campaign trail as he speaks the truth as he sees it and deals with the people, inspiring them for the first time in ages. There's also a great bit with his Security team that gets a little overdone, but somehow still manages to be funny (although the whole Robin Givens thing seems like Rock might be venting a personal demon or two on that score). Tracy Morgan can make me laugh on sight, and he doesn't have to say a word, so you can imagine how crackle-popped I got with laughter when he's dancing around with meat at the announcement of each state's voting results for no good reason. There is a decent amount of non-sequitur cut-away crazy shots that are goddamned funny (the 'superwhores' in particular), and this film could have used many more of these to keep up the energy.

What truly redeems this movie, however, is Bernie Fucking Mac, ladies and gentlemen, who plays Mays' brother, a bail bondsman from Chicago, who gets tapped as the vice presidential nominee when everybody else turns down the job. He's got a natural charisma and an ass-kickin' presence that works, and it's a bit of a catharsis when he finally takes up the job and lays the verbal (and literal) smackdown on the media suckapunks.

Yet, the film is sadly and seriously flawed. This had a great amount of potential, because Rock's stand-up acts are almost like sermons, and he's often spot-on and passionate when it comes to the absurd discrepencies and problems in this country, and I was really hoping more of that would translate to a sharp, biting satire. It never fully reaches that, though. The film is part zany hilarious hijinks, part snazzy political speechifyin' and part boring as fuck.

This is my problem with a lot of comedies like this - You've either gotta have a thick-ass selection of crazy jokes and zingers to liberally sprinkle in to keep the pace up and make people not care about the generic supporting character arcs and utterly superficial romantic subplot, or you've got to flesh these characters out and make them feel real and interesting, and give them something to do besides be a predictable waste of screen time. Lynn Whitfield's script-writer/campaign-manager character had nothing to do but go through the lame 'I don't believe in him... oh, now I believe in him' business, and thus makes it annoying to be watching anything her character does, because we know exactly where it's going.

Many a comedy seems to be done in by a rickety story infrastructure - okay, here's the idea, here's a peppering of stock supporting characters, let's shoehorn in a love interest, whip up a handful of endings and pick one for the movie and three for the DVD, and bingo, we got a story. Now let's put in the jokes!

This recipe makes for an uneven film - some parts laff-out-loud HelloLarrious, and other parts yawn-inducing 'get-to-the-funny' time-killers. For example, FAR too much time is devoted to the no-joke-havin' "futile search for a running mate" and not nearly enough time is devoted to Bernie Mac swingin' into gear and gettin' his political savvy on. It seems like nobody decided on a tone - sometimes it's a 'take the country back' surliness against the machine, and other times it's just utterly nuts, and when it gets wacky, it makes it harder to take the heavier stuff seriously at all, especially when it's not as compelling as it should be.

It feels like I'm coming down hard on this film, and maybe I am because I expect so much good to come from Chris Rock that I get frustrated when it's not completely up to snuff. Despite some triteness and uneven pacing, it's still got some good-ass comedy in it. The film still manages to entertain, even if it doesn't really enlighten.

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