""My uncle went to the hospital for a new liver and they sent his ass to the supermarket..."" With jokes like these, it's no wonder Chris Rock's screen alter ego, Lance Barton, is having a tough time as a comic. They don't do much to help the man himself with his first big-screen starring role either. This updated version of Heaven Can Wait scores points by replaying the body-swapping theme on a broader scale with its "black guy living as a white guy" running gag. But the one-note joke is stretched almost to snapping point.
The Weitz brother's (American Pie) schizoid direction hardly helps. While Rock himself is in virtually every scene, regular cutaways to character actor Brian Rhodes (to show how the rest of the world perceives the `new' Wellington) crack the illusion they're trying to create. More troublesome still is Rock's romantic pairing with Regina King (Enemy Of The State). Raging, after all, is what Rock does best. Not gushing. When Down To Earth switches to romantic comedy, you begin to seriously question Eugene Levy's angelic logic in pulling our man out of the path of a truck in the first place.
The good points, though, are strong enough to save it - if you can wait for them. The Weitz brothers turn in a great depiction of heaven, presenting it as a gouache Vegas club ruled by smooth dude Chazz Palminteri. There's the odd side-splitting zinger and our own Mark Addy (as an American merrily faking it as an English chauffeur) offers good comic support.
And, of course, there's Rock himself. When he really lets rip, there's no doubting the man's talent - - Rock is easily one of the funniest comedians working today. If only he'd put aside the sentimental barf bag and find a real movie to appear in...
The laughs are here for the taking - - but bring your wellies, 'cos you'll have to wade through a fair amount of slush to reach them. Rock's big-screen talents are proven here, but only just. Hopefully his next project, Black Sheep, will be a more worthy showcase.