'Head of State' Rocks the Vote

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2003

You know how the word "stupid" can mean "good"?

As in: "This movie . . . tee-hee . . . is so . . . bwa-ha-ha . . . stupid!"

That's the kind of movie "Head of State" is -- a comedy about the first black presidential candidate that aims low but hits its target most of the time. And that's the kind of stupid it is (the mostly hilarious, old-fashioned kind). The Chris Rock vehicle, which also marks the comedian's directorial debut, is filled with silly, brainless laughs, the kind that come at the sight of two grown men (Rock, playing Democratic presidential contender Mays Gilliam, and Bernie Mac as his running mate and older brother, Mitch) slapping each other silly. It's a cobwebbed routine straight out of "The Three Stooges," but it gets a huge laugh.

And when Gilliam, who starts out the film as an "alderman" from Washington D.C.'s "Ward Nine," gets dumped by his girlfriend (Robin Givens, in harpy mode), evicted from his office and rained on -- after his bike, his only means of transportation when his car is stolen, is run over by a Metrobus -- viewers of a certain age might be reminded of cartoonist Al Capp's walking jinx, Joe Btfsplk, if not the biblical Job.

The premise is simple, one might even say stupid: When the original Democratic candidates for president and vice president are killed in a freak midair collision, sad-sack Gilliam is drafted by a party that wants to be seen as the first one to float an African American candidate. Of course, he has no chance of winning (or so they think). They don't actually want to win, just to suck up to minorities in order to better position their real candidate (lily-white James Rebhorn) for the next election.

Needless to say, things don't quite work out as planned, and when Gilliam starts to shoot off his mouth, and not repeat the platitudes on the Teleprompter, his poll numbers shoot up.

This is where the movie stops being stupid and betrays its real brilliance. Unlike, say, the 2001 "Down to Earth," Rock's disappointing romantic comedy adapted from "Heaven Can Wait" by Rock and "Head" co-writer Ali LeRoi (among others), the filmmakers understand this time that Rock and Mac are at their best when you stick them in front of a microphone and leave them alone.

This is, after all, what a few politicians -- and most stand-up comedians -- do best. "Head of State" is not the sharpest political humor I've ever heard, but it gets my vote for the stupidest fun I've had in a long time.

HEAD OF STATE (PG-13, 95 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, brief sensuality and a few drug references. Area theaters.

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