Simply put, if you're not a Chris Rock fan, there really isn't any reason you should see his new film "Down to Earth" (IMDb listing). It's poorly shot, inconceivably assembled, and watered down to appeal to the most mainstream audience out there. The only thing in it's favor is Rock and his natural ability to make people laugh. However, if you don't find Rock funny, stay away. For fans of Rock, "Down to Earth" is the worst movie you'll ever scream with laughter over.
A remake of the 1978 Warren Beatty movie "Heaven Can Wait" (which itself was a remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"), "Down to Earth" stars Chris Rock as an aspiring standup comedian (what a stretch!) named Lance Barton. Lance is hit by a truck late one night while admiring a beautiful young lady (Regina King from "Jerry Maguire") walking down the street. Taken to Heaven, Lance finds out from the angels on his case (Chazz Palminteri and Eugene Levy) that he wasn't supposed to die that night. Offering Lance a second chance, the angels suggest a rich, white, and old body to him as a way to get back to Earth. Lance accepts the body and immediately sets out to win the heart of the woman he fell in love with only minutes before he died.
Written by most of the "The Christ Rock Show" staff, "Down to Earth" is only funny when it sneaks in satiric jabs at targets most mainstream comedies wouldn't touch. What was the last film you saw that featured a joke about rap concert shootouts? It's little surprises like this that keep alive the feeling that "Earth" is more engaging than it really is. It also leaves that unmistakable fingerprint of Rock himself where the rest of the film seems to have been printed out from the Clichéatron 9000 computer.
As a white bread romance, "Earth" strives to be syrupy, but Rock is far too limited an actor to create a spark. He has nice scenes with his co-star King, but nothing comes from them except impatience. Rock needs to be set free to roam in the fields of comedy where he belongs, not trying to gain audience sympathy with dialog even he doesn't believe in.
Once the action hits the comedy stage, that's where Rock shines, though not every decent moment in "Earth" is Rock simply regurgitating his stand up material. "Down to Earth" parades around many knee-slapping scenes highlighting Rock with his cast, and even a couple of scenes stolen by his "Chris Rock Show" associate Wanda Sykes, who shows up in the role of Lance's maid.
Pushed from it's original July 2000 release date, "Down to Earth" has been obviously passed through many hands, edited over and over again. Right from the start of the picture, it's very clear that any elementary attempts at a cohesive storyline have been thrown out in favor of showcasing Rock's gags. The film leaps around plot points and supporting characters generously in a mad dash to end before the 90-minute mark hits. It's a cool and breezy 85-minute movie, but it is one without much enthusiasm.
Following their "American Pie" success, directors Paul and Chris Weitz haven't learned much in the way of creating a unique visual style. "Down to Earth" sustains the Weitz brother's already established bland shooting techniques. With a cast of stand up comedians and laid-back old school actors, I guess it's asking too much to throw in a camera move, or maybe some coverage other than basic closeups anything to liven up the proceedings of this dull-looking film. No dice. The Weitz brothers might have a gift for preserving jokes, but as visual stylists, they don't add up to much. Leaving Rock to carry the movie with his feeble thespian ability, the directors barely make "Down to Earth" work, and they certainly don't produce anything unforgettable.
Filmfodder Grade: C+