INT. DEVELOPMENT OFFICE HOLLYWOOD STUDIO – DAY ^ A desperate writer sits in front of the desk of a stone face development executive.
WRITER ^ Okay, here’s the pitch. Chris Rock is really hot, right?
DEVELOPMENT EXEC. ^ I’m listening.
WRITER ^ Here’s the story, basically a remake of “Heaven Can Wait” with Warren Beatty. Guy gets killed accidentally and is given a second chance at life okay. But in this story Chris Rock comes back in an old white guy’s body.
DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE ^ No one is going to see a comedy with an old white guy.
WRITER ^ No, here’s the trick, everyone else in the movie sees Rock as an old white guy, we, the audience, only see Chris Rock!
DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE ^ Done. Make it.
If you just hear the idea behind “Down to Earth” it doesn’t sound so bad. I love Chris Rock’s stand up and his HBO show. I love the idea that this film is co-written and directed by the Weitz brothers, the guys behind American Pie and Chuck and Buck. So, what went wrong? Number one, the story is lame and predictable. We meet Lance (Chris Rock) an aspiring comic who can’t get laughs because of his stage fright. (Just a guess, he’ll have to overcome that later in the movie, right?) His dayjob as bike messenger gets him killed when his head turns to check out some hot chick. This is something you never want to do when crossing an intersection because you might get hit by a truck which is exactly what happens. Lance lands in heaven and he is on the list. Heaven is an all white (and I mean the décor) Lawrence Welk ball complete with Frank Sinatra music. The responsible angel is Keyes (Eugene Levy) who leads him into the office of Mr. King (Chazz Palminteri). Lance’s unscheduled death gives him a second chance in another body. When checking out the apartment of a wealthy Manhattan mogul he spots Sontee (Regina King) the hot chick he checked out just before he died. In order to hit on her, Lance leaps into the body of Wellington, an old white guy. Crappy comedy ensues. Conflicts along the lines of your average sitcom emerge as we discover that Wellington was just murdered by his own wife and her lover, that Sontee is trying to save the hospital Wellington’s company plans to shut down and all Lance wants to do is to bang Sontee and fulfill his dream of doing stand up at the Apollo. But he better hurry since the Apollo will be torn down in only one week! (That’s the ticking clock development executives insist must be in every movie.) The film has Chris Rock, the Weitz brothers, six credited writers (who knows how many “uncredited” writers) and is still not funny. Mainly because Rock’s brand of humor is brought down to PG-13 level with second grade intelligence. This is the perfect example of a film made worse by the insane development process in Hollywood – too many cooks definitely spoiled this meal.
The film is abysmal, however, there is one device in the film which is worth noting, but leaves one feeling kind of creepy. And knowing the Weitz brothers who brought creepy to new heights with Chuck and Buck, I’m sure this was on purpose. There are scenes in which Lance practices his stand up and includes some colorful jokes about Black people. This is all well and good coming from Chris Rock. But the audience in the film sees him as the old, white guy Wellington. Their reaction is one of shock. The perspective cuts from the old guy telling racist jokes to Chris Rock. Rock makes them sound funny, the old guy telling them just seems creepy. The same creepy thing is done when Lance/Wellington sings lyrics from a rap song at a chicken joint where he gleefully uses the term “n****r.” Um, not funny. If there was a serious point to be made, it never develops as the story just moves on to yet another sitcom-like situation.
All in all, Chris Rock makes a better comic sidekick than the focus of an entire film. The only conclusion one can come to after the lame plot, unfunny humor and predictable, uh, everything, is that “Down to Earth” is pure crap.