Down to Earth (2001) Movie Review

Let me first say that I don’t get Chris Rock’s popularity. I know people who swear by their firstborn that Rock is the funniest man in America right now. Frankly, I just don’t see it.

Take Down to Earth, Chris Rock’s first-ever starring role in a motion picture. It’s a comedy about a struggling black comedian named Lance Barton (Rock) who is killed while crossing the street. Unfortunately for Lance, he’s just died — not once, but twice (first at Amateur Hour at the Apollo Theater, then by being run over by a truck in the street). Turns out Lance wasn’t supposed to die from the pedestrian-truck run-in, but just paralyzed. It seems his guardian angel, Keyes (Eugene Levy), was too intent on keeping his charge from suffering that he snatched Lance away just a split-second before he was run over.

So King, played by Chazz Palminteri, who is in charge of keeping the books of Heaven in order, decides to give Lance back his life. Unfortunately, Lance’s body is no longer available, which means Lance has to take over the body of a just-died white man in his ’50s, overweight, and has all the looks of a snail crushed by a semi-truck. Lance balks, of course, until he realizes there isn’t any other choice, and oh yeah, the old white guy is a very rich old white guy.

The movie itself is a remake of Heaven Can Wait, the Warren Beatty movie, which was itself a remake of another movie called Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Rock’s Down to Earth is most (only?) funny when we see the old white guy doing and acting like Chris Rock. Ironically, the old white guy is actually funnier than when Rock is, well, Rock. Unfortunately, the old white guy shows up only about a half dozen times in the whole movie, and during the bulk of the movie we’re given Rock, who never bothers to act like a rich old white guy, thus we see Rock being, well, Rock.

Down to Earth, by virtue of starring a non-actor person, must include that nonacting star’s other profession in the movie (the profession that made him/her famous and credible to do a movie in the first place). For instance, Mariah Carey and Britney Spears must sing in their movies and Chris Rock, as a comedian in real-life, must be a comedian in his movies. That means there are plenty of stand-up moments in the movie, from the aforementioned Apollo Theater’s Amateur Hour as well as other places.

There is one scene where Rock, as the rich old white man, goes into stand-up mode during a hospital staff meeting. Supposedly Rock’s character was saying some pretty funny things in the movie, since everyone (except the stuck-up white people he was making fun of) was laughing. Did I think what he was saying was funny? Uh, no, not really. Wanda Sykes, on the other hand, plays the dead old rich white guy’s servant, and is hilarious in every scene she’s in.

Unfortunately the movie also had one very stupid plot point — the love “affair” between Sontee Jenkins (Regina King) as Rock’s love interest (before he died) and then later, after he comes back as the old white man. The movie expects us to believe this 30-something black woman is going to fall in love with this ugly, 50-something white man who might not even be able to get a date had there been no such thing as “racial barriers.” The romance between the two is just stupid and whenever they are together, the awkwardness of the situation literally drains the life out of the movie.

In a minor plus for the film, the cheating wife of the old white guy has a hilarious scene where, after being spurred by Rock-as-old-white-guy, she turns herself into a “hip hop ho” complete with Ebonics tutoring. Funny stuff.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie wasn’t.

Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz (director) / Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz (screenplay)
CAST: Chris Rock …. Lance Barton
Regina King …. Sontee Jenkins
Chazz Palminteri …. King
Eugene Levy …. Keyes

Buy Down to Earth on DVD