Head of State (2003) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: Rated PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug references
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Lynn Whitfield, Robin Givens, Nick Searcy
Director: Chris Rock
Screenplay: Chris Rock, Ali LeRoi
Review published April 5, 2003
Your opinion of Head of State will really come down to how much you like Chris Rock (Bad Company, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) himself, in this first film written, directed, produced and starring the popular comedian, and if you're a huge fan, nothing I say in the next few paragraphs will probably dissuade you from seeing it. Although a talented stand-up comedian, his forays into acting have found Rock doing less-than-stellar work, trying to mold the writing of others more into a Chris Rock-style delivery, with the results typically being uneven. Now Rock has the chance to be "The Man," playing to his strengths and avoiding his limitations, in a role catered in every way to his personality. If only Rock understood how to write characters that don't have his persona, he might have had a chance with this one. He doesn't.
Rock stars as Mays Gilliam, an Alderman in a poor Washington D.C. neighborhood, down-and-out after losing his job, his car and his girl. The presidential race is in full swing, and one of the candidates has met an untimely death, paving the way for Mays, who is seen as virtually unelectable for the party's hopeful for the election four years later. Mays is unorthodox, not only because he is the first Black man to be the party's candidate, but because he calls things as he sees it. He strikes a chord with the common folk out there, especially with minorities, and has a way of winning people over with his charm, wit, and ability to talk the talk. However, his rise in popularity also causes his opponent to try to smear him, making this an even bigger fight than he ever imagined.
On "SNL" and in his stand-up act, Rock has always had a finger on the pulse of the nation's ills, and even if he can be a bit bombastic in his delivery, there's no question he can be very engaging when in his finest form. With a film that has him running for president, he finally has the platform to address many of the issues in true Chris Rock fashion, so it would seem it couldn't miss. Although this is a comedy, if it had some moments of genuine drama or poignant, scathing criticism, there probably could have been more resonance to the words he delivers, which end up being simplistic and not very informative. Instead, this farce never really does anything other than go for a laugh, and is determined to get as many as it can, no matter how forced.
Too many of the jokes are not funny at all, especially the recurring ones, such as the re-emergence from time to time of Mays former girlfriend, played by Robin Givens (Blankman, Boomerang), during which she begs and pleads for a reconciliation only to be whisked away with a motion of Rock calling for Security. Rock's soundtrack is misguided, and is especially redundant, using the same songs multiple times, and most of them having no bearing to the story. Even if you love Nelly's hit, "Hot in Herre," you'll probably be burnt out after the half dozen times it's played throughout the film.
There are plenty of racially aware commentaries called into play, mostly cynical about the country's feelings toward Black people, but Rock wisely shows balance because not all white people are against him. Yet, as a candidate, Rock (er, I mean Mays) points the finger at many of the evils of society, but rarely actually addresses any solution to them. When he does, it ends up being worse than if he said nothing at all. Mays' solution to kids being exposed to too much violence? Well, smack them upside the head, of course!
So, if you are in absolute adoration of Chris Rock...if you loved him on SNL or "The Chris Rock Show" or any of the movies he appears in, you probably have already seen Head of State by now, and aren't likely to need my recommendation. Everyone else is better off just staying away altogether, because there just aren't enough laughs and far too many groans. It's an energetic ride, and Rock shows some visual flair, but probably bit off more than he could chew trying to make his half-cooked idea soar. If anything, this actually makes Eddie Murphy's similar vehicle, The Distinguished Gentleman, look, well...distinguished. Bloated with filler and sloppy in execution, the State of the title doesn't refer to the country as much as it does the catatonic state you'll be in from watching this entire movie without so much as a snicker. I smelled what Rock is cooking, and that's why I'm giving his movie the "Gasface."
©2003 Vince Leo