Down to Earth

"I like my women like I like my coffee. Puerto Rican!"

Down to Earth obviously has a workable concept, since it’s a remake of a remake, but the film botches it. It has the wrong idea but it approaches it from the wrong angle entirely. Yes, it is funny, to a certain extent, to see an overweight, middle-aged, dressed-up white guy rap to DMX in the middle of a heavily urban neighborhood; it is considerably less funny to see Chris Rock pretending to be said white guy. So the movie quickly loses our attention, regaining it only sporadically as the reasonably talented Chris Rock manages a funny joke or two. For the vast majority of the running time, utter boredom prevails.

Rock plays Lance Barton, a struggling young comic who, time after time, gets booed off Amateur Night at the Apollo. His manager has faith in him but, after his latest debacle, tells him that perhaps he should try a different venue to hone his abilities. Riding home on his bike and feeling utterly dejected, Barton looks up just in time to see a giant truck on a collision course. Next thing he knows, he wakes up standing in line to get into heaven. When the angels check the “invitation list,” they find that Barton isn’t on it; it turns out that the angel responsible for it screwed up and “took him” a tenth of a second before the truck hit.

Now, it seems, God’s minions owe Lance Barton one. To make reparations, they’re willing to give Barton a freshly dead new body, as long as no one has discovered it yet. After running through a bunch of unsuitable options, they settle on Charles Wellington, a 60 year-old hospital tycoon who is currently the target of human-rights activists protesting the unethical treatment of the poor in his hospitals. One such activist is Sontee (Regina King), an assertive, beautiful woman for whom Barton falls hard. The problem, of course, is that while to him he still looks like his old self, to everyone else, he is Charles Wellington.

And that’s the problem. We see Chris Rock playing himself when we should have been seeing a middle-age white guy playing Chris Rock. The only truly funny moments of the film come when director lets us see the white guy, on rare, brief occassions. Those are fairly hysterical; a shame that they only occur about twice and the rest of the movie is slow as molasses, and about as dull.

The complete failure of Down to Earth is all the more surprising considering that one of its directors was also responsible for the slice of comic genius that was Antz. This film is so fraught with stereotypes and devoid of wit that it’s hard to imagine why it was actually filmed as is. Even the dumbest comedies have to have some sort of flair, some joie de vivre, if you will; everyone in Down to Earth seens to be wading through this mess in some kind of stupor.

Chris Rock is at his best in his raunchy, sharp, hilarious stand-up act. This PG-13 affair puts him in an artistic straitjacket. He’s a victim of the material, and so is the brilliant Eugene Levy, stuck playing the role of the angel underling who keeps messing everything up. The character has potential for brilliance but seems to have been written by someone who wasn’t even trying.

Down to Earth is an insufferable hour and a half. I laughed once, chuckled a few more times. I didn’t care about anyone in it or what happened to them. I was interested but constantly disappointed by the film’s tried-and-true high concept. This might have made a great Farrely Brothers movie; they may have given the script the imagination it’s so sorely lacking.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Score: C+

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Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

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Score: B

Street of Chance

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Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

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