Chris Rock is a stand-up comic. The people behind this movie (the Weitz brothers, of “American Pie” and “Chuck and Buck”) wisely devote 25 percent of the film to Rock’s stand-up routine. Chris Rock is not an actor. He has a likeable comic presence and has made some memorable screen appearances in movies like “Dogma” (as an unrecorded disciple) and “Nurse Betty.” But he is not an actor. He has no capacity to show even the few emotions called for in this movie. During the dramatic and romantic episodes, he always appears to be counting the minutes before he can go back on stage. It is also a real disappointment to see the comic talents of one of today’s most talented actresses, Regina King (of “Jerry Maguire” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”) neglected
In this third movie version of the play originally called “Heaven Can Wait” (filmed under that name with Warren Beatty and filmed earlier as “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”), Rock plays Lance Barton, a would-be stand up comic who is prematurely delivered to heaven by an angel named Keyes (Eugene Levy) who did not know that he was supposed to survive a bicycle accident. Keyes’ boss, Mr. King (Chazz Palminteri), a cool, rat pack-ish guy in a dinner jacket, brings Lance back to earth to find him a new body to inhabit. Lance agrees to a temporary arrangement, the body of the world’s 15th richest man, Charles Wellington. Wellington is a white man in his sixties. And he has a young bimbo wife and an assistant who are trying to kill him.
Lance agrees to take on Wellington’s body when he sees Sontee (Regina King), a nurse who has come to tell Wellington off for taking over a local hospital and refusing patients who do not have insurance. But then he has to get used to being seen by the world as a rich white guy. When he tries to do his usual stand-up routine, about the differences between blacks and whites, the audience is shocked and offended. Somehow Sontee sees past his appearance,though. As they begin to fall in love, Lance is reluctant to leave Wellington’s body. But he is able to take what he has learned when it is time to move on.
Parents should know that the movie has strong language, including frequent use of the n-word. (The movie points out that everything depends on whether the word is said by a white person or a black person — this is well worth discussing.) There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and a proposed menage a trois (with two women in bed). A couple’s sexual relationship includes insults and fighting. Characters drink and smoke, and make drug references. Characters are killed (some accidentally) and one commits suicide because he has lost his money.
Families who see this movie should talk about what it would be like to inhabit the body of someone of another race (or gender). Tellingly, since he always appears the same to himself, Lance discovers that a new body he is inhabiting is black only when he tries to hail a cab and none will stop for him. How does humor change, based on who is telling the joke? What jokes do you tell about your own group that might offend you coming from someone else? Are there jokes you might tell among your own group that you would not say in a mixed group? Some families might want to talk about the conflicts between making a profit and helping the community raised by Sontee’s protests.
Families who enjoy this movie should see the two original versions with Robert Montgomery (father of “Betwitched’s” Elizabeth Montgomery) and Warren Beatty.