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
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.
“The United States.”
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.
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