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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Full of Life
by Betty Jo Tucker

Some stories can be told over and over again without losing their appeal. And that goes for movie plots too. Down to Earth, starring comic Chris Rock, is the second remake of a 1940s movie called Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and it’s almost as entertaining as Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, a 1979 Oscar-nominated film. Changing the hero from a sports figure to a wannabe stand-up comedian makes this third version a perfect showcase for Rock’s unique brand of humor.

When Lance Burton (Rock) is run over by a truck and arrives in a nightclub called Heaven, he finds out his death is a mistake. That’s why his inept guardian angel (Eugene Levy) and Sinatra-fan head angel (Chazz Palminteri) agree to help him find a new body back on Earth. The only one available at the time is an elderly white billionaire who has just been murdered by his wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and her lover (Greg Germann).

Of course, this is a ridiculous concept, but I just couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of an African-American comedian inside the body of a man like Charles Wellington. When Burton, in spite of his new persona, plans to enter and win an Amateur Night Contest at the famed Apollo Theatre, it seemed hilarious to me.

Although Rock has appeared in movies before, this is his first leading role. He stole a few scenes from Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 4 and received favorable notices as Judas in Dogma and as a hit man in Nurse Betty. In Down to Earth, the Saturday Night Live veteran gets the opportunity to show his romantic side with Regina King (who plays Burton’s beautiful love interest). While posing no threat to Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes in this regard, Rock projects a wide-eyed vulnerability that’s quite appealing.

Still, Rock is at his best in the movie’s stand-up comic scenes, even when he’s bad enough to be booed by the audience. Delivering such unfunny lines as "My girlfriend is so ugly she wears make-up to be on the radio," Rock adopts a very funny deadpan expression. But when he gets rolling with his famous racial barbs, the movie really rocks. "There are two kind of malls," he begins. "White people’s malls and the ones white people used to go to." Sprinkled generously throughout the film, material like this from Rock’s successful comedy routines added to my enjoyment. I also appreciated the movie’s lack of bathroom jokes and obscene language. How refreshing!

In addition, it’s always encouraging to see a strong female role model. King (Enemy of the State) exudes spunk and courage as a dedicated nurse who helps Burton spend Wellington’s vast fortune to help others. This talented actress has a natural glow about her and reacts convincingly to the strange situations faced by the character she plays.

Nevertheless, Down to Earth includes one serious problem. Because viewers see Rock instead of Wellington most of the time, it takes a tricky leap of imagination that’s difficult to sustain. More glimpses of Wellington as others see him might have helped.

Although it’s safe to predict no Oscar nominations for Down to Earth, this remake is definitely a must-see for Chris Rock fans.

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sexual humor, language and some drug references.)

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