Head of State
2003, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by Chris Rock. Starring Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Nick Searcy, Robin Givens, Tamala Jones, Tracy Morgan, Lynn Whitfield.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 4, 2003
On stage, Chris Rock is a force to be reckoned with, a shrewd and sharp-tongued stand-up comic with real balls. So why does he come off so castrated in the ineptly made Head of State, a fumbling comedy about a black Washington, D.C., alderman chosen by the Democratic Party as its unlikely candidate for president? There’s only the faintest glimmer of Rock’s talent for piercingly funny humor here, a shortcoming for which the comic can only blame himself, given that he also produced and directed the movie. Looking like it was shot on a budget of $39.95, the cheaply made and technically crude Head of State comes off as a home movie for the homeboys, rather than the satiric political comedy that Rock is undoubtedly capable of pulling off. It has its funny moments, but due to Rock’s seeming cluelessness about what to do behind the camera, not all of those funny moments are intentional. (The numerous sparsely populated "crowd" scenes on the campaign trail are laughably orchestrated; their unreal quality have a Waiting for Guffman-like quality about them.) And while the improbable storyline about how Rock’s character, Mays Gilliam, comes to run for the nation’s highest office is not meant to be taken seriously (one would hope), its sheer ludicrousness detracts from the possibility of the film making any intelligent jabs at the American political system. Oddly enough, the race card is ineffectively played in Head of State. Sure, there are jokes about Puff Daddy and a hip-hop dance number, but they’re lame laughs all the same. While Rock’s screen presence is negligible in the film – even the turning-point speech, in which he rants "That ain’t right!" like some modern-day Howard Beale, fails to tap into the performer’s charisma – Mac brings some much needed life to the film as May’s older brother, who becomes his running- and soul-mate in the presidential campaign. (As Mays’ psychotic ex-fiancée, a cackling and screeching Givens also enlivens things up, but not always in a pleasant way.) It’s hard to say what Rock is trying to achieve in this mish-mashed mess of a movie, although no doubt his intentions are good. If he was trying to convey the idea that any fool can become president in this country, he really needn’t have spent the time and effort to make a movie for such a purpose. After all, current events bear out that notion all too well.