Head of State (2003)

(On DVD, December 2003) Chris Rock playing a black man running for President of the United States: what else do you need to know about Head of State?  I’m almost sorry that I waited this long to see this film, but then again it probably feels like a very different film post-2008 than upon its release in 2003.  The delicious frisson of “black man running for president of the United States” has now been archived for history with Obama’s election, and there are a number of scenes here that play very differently now.  (Such as Rock’s initial campaign speech to an audience, echoing Obama’s “Fired up!” stump speech.)  But it may be placing far too much weight to consider the film through the lens of real-world politics, since Head of State has the annoying tendency to veer in-between a variety of tone.  Writer/director Rock never quite knows whether his film wants to be a silly black-themed spoof, a clever political satire, rabble-rousing populist agitprop or just another mainstream comedy with the requisite love interest subplot.  As a result, the film feels a bit out of control, with more serious sequences interrupted by sillier fare.  It doesn’t make the film unpleasant to watch (there are more than a good number of laughs here and there) but it makes it feel scattered and less enjoyable than a more polished product may have been.  Rock is immensely likable, and so is the film despite a few excursions in lala-land: Head of State may not fully achieve its potential, but it’s not too bad, and there are a few interesting ideas here to go along with the laughs.

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