Chris Rock has made an interesting name for himself. He's a black
comedian who's been in almost 60 feature films; a writer and co-writer
for movies and TV shows like Saturday Night Live; and is a man with
strong political opinions. So, with all that talent and experience,
you'd think that if he were to write and produce a political satire,
it'd be a mix of biting comedy with a message.
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If only that were the case with "Head of State." Instead of biting
satire poking fun at the political system, there's a collection of gag
jokes that, in themselves are funny, but neither politically pertinent
or satirical in any way. What's more the romantic-comedy subplot is way
too prominent, elbowing out the main theme of the film.
Rock plays Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C. alderman, who's a man of
the people. He not only does good things in his neighborhood, but even
the drug dealers like him. When the existing democratic presidential
candidates unexpectedly die, Gilliam finds himself selected by the party
to replace them, all in the name of a politically ambitious underling
who sets up Rock to lose in hopes of securing the nomination in the next
election. Through a series of gags and mishaps, Gilliam not only gets
elected, but gets the girl too.
The film certainly has the gags, many of which are genuinely funny. In
fact, if it were all gags, a la "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun", then
Rock's film would have been surprisingly refreshing. But, the humor was
diluted by attempts at a serious side - both on the political front and
the romantic front - and the script fails to know when one ends and the
other begins. What's more, the serous or romantic sides to the film,
gags notwithstanding, were just plain silly.
It's not that the formula doesn't work. It's been done many times
before, such as "Dave", starring Kevin Klein, and Warren Beatty's
"Bulworth". In each case, the "candidate" was unlikely and over the edge,
but their straight talk and unconventional approach to politics appealed
to the people and resonated with movie audiences. In essence, using
this theme as the platform for satirical poignancy was very effective
(from an entertainment perspective, not necessarily as a valid social
commentary). In the end, the reason these films worked is because it
was clear where the gags end and the seriousness begins.
On a separate note with respect to today's current events, I couldn't
help but notice that it's because of reality that this movie is actually
more disturbing than it should be. In fact, it harkens back to the good
old days of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Back then, people didn't
take politics or world events seriously at all, as evidenced by the fact
that we had actual, serious attempts at the presidency from people such
as Donald Trump, Ross Perot, and yes, even Warren Beatty. You'd never
see those names in mainstream press in today's environment. Perhaps
"Head of State" should have been released during a time when society's
perception of politics and the presidency wasn't so important. But today,
it's just plain eerie and disturbing.
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