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Head of State (March 27/03)

Given that Chris Rock's last movie, Bad Company, was as awful as it was, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that Head of State has to be better. And indeed it is, though Rock still doesn't seem to possess an ounce of acting talent.

Rock stars as Mays Gilliam, a well-meaning alderman who - through a set of odd circumstances - is chosen to run for President. Though he initially doesn't seem to have much of a chance, his decision to tell it like it is (rather than spew out the pre-packaged speeches his advisors insist he read) wins over a good portion of the voting public. But his opponent, the former Vice-President (Nick Searcy), refuses to lose to such a newcomer and begins publicly slandering Mays.

Though the film is essentially entertaining, Head of State's premise is so ludicrous that it never quite becomes the Capra-esque fantasy Rock clearly wants it to be. The idea that a black man could be President isn't ridiculous in this day and age; however, the film presents Mays in such a stereotypical light that it's impossible to believe that he'd get past the first step of his campaign. Clearly, this is supposed to be wishful thinking on the part of Rock; if his character acts naturally and speaks truthfully, in the idealized world of Head of State, he wins. But really, who in their right mind is going to vote for a candidate who behaves like an extra out of a Jay Z video?

There are a few chuckle worthy moments in the film, but it never becomes quite as funny as you might hope - mostly due to Rock's self-censorship. The movie's been rated PG-13 in the States, and if you've ever heard any of Rock's stand-up material, you know there's no way it could ever receive that kind of a rating. He's such a terrible actor that, if he's not funny, what's the point of him even being in a movie? The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces, including Dylan Baker (!), but the actors are never really allowed to develop characters; they seem to exist only to further the substandard plot. For example, Lynn Whitfield plays an advisor that initially hates Gilliam, but ends up becoming his biggest supporter - in the space of about five minutes.

And then, of course, there's Rock. Though he's proven to be an engaging presence on talk shows, he just can't seem to get the hang of this acting thing. His performance seems completely forced; there's nothing naturalistic about his screen presence. It's fairly apparent that he's trying awfully hard to ingratiate himself to the audience, but he can't do it (it must be said, however, that compared to his performance in Bad Company, he comes off like Olivier here). Head of State also marks Rock's directorial debut, and there's nothing entirely special about his visual style. He seems to be interested in telling the story in as bland a fashion as possible, which is certainly appropriate for the material.

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