Down to Earth
“I'm black again!” shouts Chris Rock from inside the body of a middle-aged, overweight white guy. Taxis keep passing him by. Although Rock's raw, brittle qualities soften in this sprawling comedy, scenes such as this one keep Down to Earth from sinking too far.
The central conceit is borrowed from Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait. A man dies prematurely and returns to life in a borrowed body to finish some business. In the case of struggling black comedian Lance Barton (Chris Rock), his unfinished biz is to bring down the house at Harlem's Apollo and get with the woman of his dreams (Regina King). Lance was ogling Sontee (King) when killed by a passing automobile. A mafioso angel named King (Chazz Palminteri) revives Lance, albeit in the body of staid blue-blooded millionaire Charles Wellington. Before Lance's arrival, Wellington wanted to shut down a struggling inner-city hospital against the wishes of activist Sontee. Now that Lance is inside, the big white guy (the audience generally sees him as Rock) sets about trying to woo Sontee and achieve success as a hip-hop loving comedian.
Down to Earth sports four writers, two directors, and is loosely based on a movie that was loosely based on a play. The attention Chris Rock receives for his routines and HBO show are well-founded, but his talent is washed over here. Of course, there are obvious race-based laughs to be had. It is funny to witness characters' reactions to an old white man shouting DMX choruses and using the N-word. This obviousness makes Down to Earth's antics ultimately unfulfilling.