Amidst the rash of actors making their directorial debuts, along comes Chris Rock with “Head of State”, a mild comedy that’s strong enough on his brand of humor when he’s in front of a microphone, but really skimps the audience on a decent story.
The 2004 election is well on its way and the current presidential candidate for the Democrats, as well as his running mate are killed suddenly when their planes collide into one another. Senator Bill Arnot (James Rebhorn) decides that the type of person that is needed to run for office is one that can follow orders and tells his advisors (including Lynn Whitfield as Debra Lassiter and Dylan Baker as Martin Geller) that this new candidate needs to lose against the current V.P. (Nick Searcy) who is also running for President, so that despite the loss, the Democrats gain a few easy points and Arnot is good to go as the presidential candidate (and most likely the winner) for the 2008 election. Enter Mays Gilliam (Rock), an alderman in Washington D.C. who is certainly having his fair share of bad luck, what with his workplace being shut down on him and his fiancée (Robin Givens) dumping him. More on her later…..believe me!!! Gilliam is honed in on and brought in by Lassiter and Geller and told that he should run for President.
After that, the campaign begins with Gilliam reciting many well-written but boring speeches and soon, with the advice of his brother Mitch (Bernie Mac), he turns off the teleprompter and speaks his mind, leading to many funny moments and of course when the people react favorably, the expression of shock on Mays’ face says it all: “This is pretty fuckin’ cool.”
However, “Head of State” has many shortcomings. First off is the story, which is far too weak to sustain a 95-minute running time. What would have been best here would have been to bring in another scriptwriter, and have Rock insert the jokes into that script as he saw fit. Granted, the film is a hell of a lot better than what Down to Earth had to offer, but the plot just doesn’t pull all the way through. And what the hell is with Robin Givens, who plays Kim?? If she is trying to interpret Glenn Close’s character in “Fatal Attraction” in another way, it is the wrong and certainly terrible way to do it. Her jabbering on about the problems she finds with Mays and her screaming and general craziness is humorous for about a split second and then becomes horrifying. When he starts his campaign, Mays has security with him and whenever he needs help, all he has to do is shout out “Security!” and the intruder is taken away. This happens to Kim numerous times, but once should have been enough and the film should have been done with her. The film would have benefited with less time for Kim and more time for Lisa (Tamala Jones) who is at least easier to look at and far more charming.
It’s always a pleasure to see Bernie Mac on the screen and Mitch helps out when the going begins to get tough for this movie, but disappears far too soon at one point. Of course one of Mitch’s traits is to punch out people from time to time and with Mac, it’s funny for the first…oh, about 15 times, but after that, it’s pretty much ka-put.
As a director, Rock acquits himself nicely, including a very creative moment involving the opening credits. The only real problem with Rock in regards to his directorial duties may have been with allowing his co-writer, Ali LeRoi, to become second-unit director as well. There are a few shaky camera moments that are a bit of a distraction.
“Head of State” has talent such as Bernie Mac and the humor of Chris Rock at times, but just not enough power to pull the whole movie through. After all is said and done, it seems like the jokes during the end credits are the tow truck of the movie, the engine quitting after the halfway point. And that’s it, that’s about all there is to say about “Head of State”.