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Head Of State (PG-13)
Official Site
Director: Chris Rock
Producers: Ali LeRoi, Michael Rotenberg
Written by: Chris Rock, Ali LeRoi
Cast: Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Lynn Whitfield, Robin Givens, James Rebhorn, Tamala Jones

Rating : out of 5

Nearly 20 years ago, when I was a Jesse Jackson delegate to my state’s Democratic convention, I thought, “Shee-it! This is 1984. It’s not what the candidate looks like any more, it’s what the candidate says.” Okay, I was real young. It’s 2003. Is America ready for a black president yet?

The answer appears to be a qualified yes: Any black candidate who can keep ’em laughing might have a shot. After watching Head Of State, I conclude that Chris Rock is that viable candidate. His character, Mays Gilliam, unloads zingers that’ll have you nodding in agreement, maybe even joining in the campaign’s call-and-response—“That ain’t right!”—without offering word one about how to repair things. Gilliam is definitely a Democrat.

One ordinary day, Gilliam, a hands-on Washington, D.C. alderman, saves a woman and a cat from a building scheduled for demolition; gets dumped by his evil girlfriend (Givens); has his car repo-ed and his bike run over. You can’t blame him if he’s a little shell-shocked when political party (party unidentified, but we know) officials tap the local hero to replace their presidential candidate, who died in an airplane crash.

“We want you to run for president,” they say.

“Of what?”

“The United States.”

“Of what?”


It would spoil one of the richest laughs of the film to reveal what comes into Mays’ head immediately after he absorbs this information. Whether you’ve seen the trailer or not, you can pretty much imagine most of the rest of the movie. Mays’ handlers, played by Dylan Baker and Lynn Whitfield, try unsuccessfully to get their new candidate to conform to the campaign playbook. Eventually, at the behest of his big brother Mitch (Mac), Mays begins to speak his mind, and gosh almighty get out, the common people respond to it!

The road to election day is filled with loads of one-liners, like a loosely adapted Chris Rock stand-up routine, and not one of his funnier ones since he had to make a PG-13. Rock isn’t particularly noted for being a good storyteller. If you’ve seen his stuff, you know he’s more of an astute observer and commentator. His approach to telling a story of some 80+ minutes was to put a thin mortar of plot between small segments that kill. Unfortunately, not all of those small segments do kill the people—outside of The Guru, was the sight of supposedly rhythm-impaired white folks getting soul ever funny?—and the subplot of his romantic pursuit of a sloe-eyed convenience store clerk (Jones) is for shit. The supporting characters are such standard cinematic types that you’ve got to feel a little depressed that Rock included them. Whitfield plays that seditty sister who eventually comes to embrace her blackness (you can tell from the changes in her hairdo as the film progresses) and Baker plays the WASP who eventually gets the spirit.

On the plus side, any day Bernie Mac is on the screen is a good day, and don’t let me give you the idea that Rock isn’t a lot of fun to watch. Also, this movie actually had an element of suspense. I’m a lot more cynical than I was in ’84, so I kept watching and wondering, how are they going to keep Mays Gilliam from winning? Can’t tell ya. Watch the movie.

—Roxanne Bogucka

Jump To Chris Rock Interview>


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