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Head of State

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Head of State
from Film Forum, 04/03/03Head of State a comedy headache

The box office flourished this week with the arrival of comedian Chris Rock's directorial debut, Head of State. Rock plays Mays Gilliam, a community alderman in Washington D.C. who is abruptly invited to run for president. His older brother, a bail bondsman named Mitch (Bernie Mac), signs on as his running mate. A simple plot reminiscent of Frank Capra films gets peppered with Rock's sharp-edged humor and a lot of simple political sentiments. And once again, as in so many recent comedies, white people are characterized as shallow and thick-headed while black culture receives the stereotypical treatment.

Religious press film critics would like to impeach Rock and Mac on charges of bad taste and offensive, race-oriented comedy.

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says, "Rock is a funny guy, and there are several nice moments, but the uneven comic success rate and a naïve view of politics is mixed with obscenity and some crudity." He urges readers, "Write to black celebrities and tell them you are tired of the offensive material coming from their mouths in nearly every film they appear in. For all my Caucasian subscribers, write the same letter to everyone else in Hollywood!"

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) says, "It's a schizophrenic movie, sometimes wistfully sweet-natured, other times veering towards vulgarity. Rock milks the populist theme for laughs and has comedic presence before the camera, but the dialogue and situations are mediocre and the movie sags by its midpoint. Its reliance on political stereotypes and tired jabs at race relations consign it to also-ran status."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "This is one of those comedies that might have been funnier had it been released at a different time. But when our nation is looking to our president for wartime leadership and wisdom, it seems almost disrespectful and sort of a slap-in-the-face to the presidency to have a movie that mocks the whole system." She concludes, "Save your money and your time! And while you're at it, thank God for the man we have in office who's proven to be a great Head of State in these rough times."

Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) writes, "The film pits Mays's good deeds, candor and compassion against the crass materialism, duplicity and self-centeredness of entrenched D.C. types. On that level, I have no misgivings. It's when it strays into race-specific humor (something it does a lot) that this Chris Rock vanity piece goes wrong."

Mainstream critics were generally easier on Rock's debut effort. Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) finds Rock's effort praiseworthy. "Rock, one of the most astute comic talents working today, revels in impassioned commentary about the state of American politics and race relations, all imparted with a grin [and] a twinkle … His movie is as blithe and fearless in talking about race as Bringing Down the House is nervous and coy." She says that Rock and Mac "exult in the kind of highly charged verbal and physical antics that are star-turn rewards for performers currently at the tops of their games."

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) is somewhat pleased as well. "Head of State is an imperfect movie, but not a boring one and not lacking in intelligence."