Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Dave Chappelle, Mos Def, Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean
Written by: Dave Chappelle
Directed by: Michel Gondry
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/18/2013
IMDB

Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hit Me!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In September of 2004, the elusive comedian Dave Chappelle threw a spur-of-the-moment block party in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. He assembled musical stars Mos Def, Kanye West, Erykah Badu and a reunited Fugees (with Lauryn Hill) to perform onstage, and traveled to his Ohio hometown invite some jus-folks to fill out the audience. A high school marching band that happened to be nearby also found itself on the guest list.

Celebrated music video and feature film director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) captured the whole shebang -- the show as well as the behind-the-scenes. Gondry was clever enough to collect his footage in a seemingly random order, breaking up the concert scenes with Chappelle's offstage, improvised comedy jams. Likewise, each performer is allowed limited screen time. Gondry understands the pitfalls that can occur in filmed shows and how crushingly dull they can quickly become. This way Chappelle's presence is interspersed throughout the entire film.

Though nouvelle hipster Mos Def nearly upstages him, Chappelle himself is definitely the high point. He instantly disarms with his lanky, toothy presence, and, like a faster Jonathan Winters, he's uncanny at inventing hilarious jabs on the spot. Reports of his odd offscreen behavior aside, he riffs comfortably with any number of locals -- either homespun Ohioans or bizarre New Yorkers -- and kills with his scripted onstage routines. He invents a few routines involving the backing band that had me wiping away hysterical tears.

For the most part, the music throbs forcefully, with hip-hop group Dead Prez the standout; one explosive song earns an end credit repeat. Lauryn Hill's singing falls on the wobbly side, but her sheer presence still wows the crowd.

Ultimately, Dave Chappelle's Block Party has very little point; it wasn't intended to raise money or "send a message," and it runs a bit too long for pure fun. Several backstage interviews with second-banana performers or guest stars tend to slow things down as well. (Eternal Sunshine aside, Gondry still hasn't mastered the long form.) Nevertheless, the film has enough high points and indelible images to make it worth an RSVP.

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