February 22, 2001

Third Rock From The Sun

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Love him or hate him, Chris Rock has proven through two television sketch comedies and a variety of HBO specials that he knows how to work a crowd. With his big-screen appearances in movies such as Dogma and Lethal Weapon IV, it looked like Rock was shaping quite a career for himself on the silver screen.

Unfortunately, Rock’s first leading role in Paramount Picture’s Down To Earth doesn’t bring the belly laughs that his HBO specials are so famous for.

In the film, Rock portrays a bike messenger named Lance Burton who has aspirations of one day making it big on New York City’s comedy circuit. Burton’s dreams are embodied in a single audition for a comedy showcase to be held in Harlem. But, before Burton gets a chance to audition for the show, he’s run over and killed by a 16-wheeler on the rainy streets of New York City.

As Burton makes his post-mortem journey to the big nightclub in the sky, it comes to light that a mistake has been made somewhere in heaven. As it turns out, Burton wasn’t supposed to die for another 43 years. As compensation for the mistake, Burton is given the option of coming back to Earth to live out the remainder of his allotted time.

There’s one slight problem: Burton’s physical body is already dead. So, he is reincarnated as none other than the fifteenth richest man in the nation — a disgustingly wealthy, corrupt Caucasian man named Charles Wellington.

The movie then goes through a long series of gimmicks centered around the cultural differences between Burton and his new found body. The movie tries hard to make light of the racial implications behind its premise, but spends far too much time focusing on the gag. One can’t help but wonder when the punch line to all the set up will come along and make us bust a proverbial gut.

Directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, who brought us American Pie, this film should have been much funnier than it was.

But never fear all you Chris Rock fans, it took Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams a few flops before they found their niche in Hollywood. Hopefully, Rock’s next movie will have a script smart enough for his specialized brand of humor.

All the same, it’s no surprise that a remake of Heaven Can Wait with an added racial twist makes for a rather far-fetched and utterly disappointing film. But who knows? If you enjoy Chris Rock and were one of the people who honestly believed that American Pie was a documentary about contemporary high school life, you might get a kick out of this one. For the rest of us, if you’re not in the mood to watch a talent wasted, you should probably avoid this Heaven Can Wait knock off until hell freezes over (or, at least until it hits the video stores).

Archived article by Nate Brown