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DOWN TO EARTH

SYNOPSIS:
In this remake of Warren Beatty’s 1978 film Heaven Can Wait, Lance Barton (Chris Rock) is an aspiring stand up comedian accustomed to being booed off the stage by the notoriously critical audiences of the Apollo Theatre. Things for Lance go from bad to worse when he’s hit by a truck and sent to heaven before his time. To make up for the mistake, two angels (Chazz Palminteri, Eugene Levy) agree to send Lance back to Earth in someone else’s body – namely a crusty old white millionaire businessman who is ruining a community hospital run by nurse Sontee (Regina King). Now Lance is posed with more than just comedic ambition; he’s dealing with loads of money, racial stereotypes, newfound love, and people’s lives.

….with a thud. Just when I thought Evolution had the worst film of the year award in safe keeping, along comes this dead duck reworking of Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) and Heaven Can Wait (1978). Check out the credits. Directors Chris and Paul Weitz made American Pie - one of the biggest comedy smashes of the past few years. In a portent-rich opening we find Rock playing a hopeless stand-up comic who's hit by a truck and taken to heaven. It should be a recipe for big laughs but it's just where the problems really begin. Movie star rules dictate that top-billed Rock needs to be on screen as much as possible - not some 60 year-old white guy. What it means is that we in the audience see Lance as Lance, even though he's in Wellington's body. The other characters in the film see Wellington, not Lance, although they hear Lance. So you have to keep reminding yourself that who we are seeing and who the film characters are seeing are two different people. When the romance between Lance and Sontee hots up we can be grateful to be spared the sight of an aged man frolicking with a sexy young chick but otherwise it puts the film in an unworkable position. All to accommodate the star of the show who should have got wise and hidden as much as possible. The gags aren't funny in the first place and having to accept the clumsy manner in which they're delivered is the last straw. It's worth remembering that when stars make the long haul and tour Australia it might be a sign that the film hasn't struck gold at home and needs bolstering at the foreign box-office. Rock was here recently and the film had grossed a modest $US 64 million by June 3, after a $20 million opening weekend in February. I rest my case.
Richard Kuipers

Comedians good enough to make it to the big screen are usually terrific stand-up comics. After all, they cut their teeth on the live circuit before the inevitable TV appearances on talk shows and varieties like Saturday Night Live. SNL is exactly where Chris Rock and a hundred other comedians got their start, but unfortunately, movies like Down To Earth let them down. Movies must be packaged to an audience and must conform to censorship and classification laws. As such, comedians like Rock, who is best when given free reign to run wild, is constrained and restricted. He’s no leading man (not yet anyway), and his darting eyes, big goofy smile and motor mouth are totally at odds with this warm-hearted character. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Similarly, most people would think Eddie Murphy’s R-rated Delirious and Raw were his funniest shows, whereas The Nutty Professor and Dr Dolittle are tamer (and family oriented) affairs. Regardless of these limitations, Down To Earth is still a very muddled and unfunny film. Once Lance is sent back to earth and inhabits the millionaire’s body, we the audience see Chris Rock whereas everyone else in the film still sees the millionaire. That’s supposed to set up some hilarious gags about being black or white, but those gags fall flat. The script (by Rock and others) is more wild and uneven than anything I’ve seen this year. Why on earth would Sontee fall for this geriatric who stands for everything she hates? As Sontee, Regina King (Cuba Gooding’s feisty wife in Jerry Maguire) proves she’s better than this, as do all supporting players like Chazz Palminteri, Eugene Levy, Frankie Faison and Jennifer Coolidge. The direction from American Pie’s Weitz brothers is totally uninspired. For the final nail in the coffin, I must ask how the hell this made it to the big screen. It’s a video at best, and not a very entertaining one.
Shannon J Harvey

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

TRAILER

DOWN TO EARTH (PG)
(US)

CAST: Chris Rock, Regina King, Chazz Palminteri, Eugene Levy

PRODUCERS: Sean Daniel, James Jacks, Michael Rotenberg

DIRECTOR: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz

SCRIPT: Chris Rock, Lance Crouther, Ali LeRoi, Louis CK. Based on the screenplay Heaven Can Wait by Elaine May and Warren Beatty, adapted from the play by Harry Segall

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Richard Crudo

EDITOR: Priscilla Nedd Friendly

MUSIC: Jamshied Sharifi

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paul Peters

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 2, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: January 23, 2002







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