Chris Rock is at his best when he”s performing onstage, which is probably the reason that the makers of “Down to Earth” made his character, Lance, a comedian. In fact, the writers of “Down to Earth” (Rock was one of many who updated 1978″s “Heaven Can Wait,”) went to great lengths to put the actor in situations where he could showcase his wisecracking and comedic talents. The role marks Rock”s first shot at being the leading man in a movie and for the most part he succeeds. “Down to Earth” has its moments and that”s more than can be said for the other comedies currently playing in theaters (yes that means you “The Wedding Planner,” “Saving Silverman” and “Head Over Heels”).
“Down to Earth” has hardly started when Lance gets run over by a truck the result of his eyes moving from the road to a beautiful girl, Suntee (Regina King). Lance heads to Heaven where he”s told by Keyes (Eugene Levy) and Mr. King (Chazz Palminteri) that they”re not quite ready for him.
Lance goes back to Earth and takes over the body of Charles Wellington, a wealthy businessman who”s threatening to close down a public hospital that he just purchased. And while Lance sees himself when he looks in the mirror, everyone else sees Lance as Wellington, an overweight, balding white man. Those behind the film use this discrepancy to further a few jokes Rock singing along to Snoop Dogg is funny, Rock singing along to Snoop Dogg as a 53-year-old white man is priceless. The fact that we see Lance more often than Lance in Wellington”s body is somewhat distracting and doesn”t make sense according to the logic that the characters provide us. After all, Lance is supposedly the only one who can see his own body rather than Wellington”s. The move was done to keep the star of the movie onscreen as much as possible, but it makes the sporadic moments where we actually see Wellington somewhat jarring.
The majority of the movie consists of Lance getting accustomed to living Wellington”s life, which he grows fond of right off the bat. Some of the best scenes in the film come when Lance is in full fish-out-of-water mode, exploring Wellington”s house and the different technological gadgets that he has in it. The additional twist of Lance having to leave Wellington, switch bodies again and the complications that arise doesn”t really work and the story would have been better served to concentrate solely on the Wellington side of things.
Rock handles his part well and carries “Down to Earth” both in story and humor. Much of the comedy here is either hit or miss, with Rock”s fans being much more likely to appreciate the film. Rock gets little help from his supporting cast, with the one-two punch of the uptight Levy and the not nearly as cool as he thinks Palminteri killing any momentum that the story has going for it whenever they appear onscreen.
“Down to Earth” doesn”t really have much to say or offer viewers, outside of the occasional funny scene. Its attempts to convey a deeper message about the human spirit fall short and become somewhat ridiculous towards the end of the film. That said, Rock”s performance helps raise the picture from mediocre to a somewhat successful comedy that, if nothing else, should at least be good for a few laughs. Rock would be well served to heed the advice of a noted thespian and “keep rocking and rolling and making better movies.”