Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Nick Searcy, Lynn Whitfield, Robin Givens, Tamala Jones, James Rebhorn, Keith David, Tracy Organ, Stephanie March, Robert Stanton, Jude Ciccolella, Nate Dogg, Angie Mattson
Written by: Chris Rock, Ali LeRoi
Directed by: Chris Rock
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug references
Running Time: 95
Date: 03/28/2003

Head of State (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The 'State' of Things

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Could a non-experienced "ordinary" person actually go head-to-head with an established politician and win, if money is not a factor? With the lethargic state of American politics today, the answer is: absolutely. Especially because the windbag Republican opponent -- from Texas, and sounding awfully Bush-like -- can only spew the phrase, "God bless America and no place else." Those words may make some people cheer, but when the other guy actually thinks about stuff and speaks to the people, they fade away like an old joke.

Chris Rock plays Mays Gilliam, America's first black president. The Democratic Party chooses him as a replacement when the current candidate dies in a plane crash, thinking that he'll lose -- but it will make the party look good. An irreverent loudmouth who works as a Washington alderman, Gilliam understands real people. Just after we meet him, he dashes off to rescue an old woman whose house is being demolished. (The city has given her a measly $40,000 for her trouble.) He has no illusions about race, either. The first time he imagines himself president, he's assassinated in three seconds. But he accepts the nomination anyway.

Gilliam runs through the predicted presidential routine, traveling to various states and giving speeches. He briefly falls out with his campaign team (Lynn Whitfield and Dylan Baker) and tries to keep a long-distance relationship going with a cute convenience store worker (Tamala Jones). And when virtually every possible running mate turns him down, Gilliam chooses his own brother Mitch (Bernie Mac) to fill the slot. The two brothers, incapable of holding back either physically or verbaly, greet each other with joyous sucker punches. But it's the jokes -- and the political gut-punches -- that get "Head of State" roiling.

The Republican candidate Lewis (Nick Searcy) -- who also has a little bit of Gore in him, having already served eight years as Vice President -- eventually uses real-life politics try and to stomp the young turk. When Gilliam fails to attend a cancer fundraiser, Lewis fires off a negative television ad claiming that Gilliam is "for cancer." But Gilliam won't "go negative." His speeches fire up the extras in the film and do the same to the real-life audience.

Making his directorial debut, Rock proves a little unsteady behind the camera, forsaking artistry, story and performance in favor of nailing the jokes as hard as possible. Bernie Mac alone manages to shine through; like his electric blue suit, the movie fits him perfectly. His funny moments as well as his sincere ones always come out sparkling. Ultimately, Head of State is very funny and -- at least right now -- absolutely essential. If it gets viewers mad enough to stand up and vote, then each and every red-blooded American owes it to himself or herself to see it.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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