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HEAD OF STATE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Nick Searcy, Robin Givens, Lynn Whitfield, Tamala Jones, James Rebhorn
Director: Chris Rock
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: August 12, 2003

“What about NATO? How do you feel about NATO?”

“I never met NATO. I don’t know nothing about him, I don’t talk about people behind their back.”

Film ***

The political satire has been done many times before. Who could ever forget the winning audaciousness of films such as Wag the Dog and especially Bulworth? So would yet another cinematic stab at politics be a warm welcome? Why absolutely, especially in the wake of such startling events of the past couple of years, and with everyone nearly divided on current government conduct. Leave it to actor/writer/comedian Chris Rock to deliver the goods with Head of State, which also marks his directorial debut.

Rock is no stranger to spoofing politics. I was a frequent viewer of The Chris Rock Show during its run on HBO. The heyday of that show just happen to be at the same time when Clinton sex scandal started to emerge, and Rock’s sketches of the scandal were some of the funniest I had ever seen. So it’s safe to say that I knew he had it in him to create a darn funny political spoof.

Rock plays Mays Gilliam, an alderman who proudly represents the citizens of a bad section of D.C. Although he’s dedicated to his job, as we see him rescuing an elderly woman and a cat from a demolition site, his personal life starts to hit a serious bump. His psycho girlfriend, Kim (Robin Givens), is fed up with him and leaves him, not to mention with unpaid bills. In addition, his car gets repoed, he gets evicted from his business office, and worst of all, his bike gets demolished by a city bus. But Mays is on the verge of pure luck, in the form of a stab at nothing less than the oval office.

How did Mays find his way here? The presidential election, which is just two months away, is in hot water. When it’s reported that the top two presidential candidates were killed, due to their planes crashing into each other, the party has to come up with a replacement candidate, and fast. They come to Mays, and propose the offer and of course, he accepts it. But it’s not exactly such a squeaky clean plan. A slimy senator (James Rebhorn), who’s vying for the presidency himself, wants to pick a minority candidate in order to gain huge points for the party. He then orders campaign managers Geller (Dylan Baker) and Lassiter (Lynn Whitfield) to go to work on Mays, convincing him that he is the right man for the job.

So Mays, not knowing the true nature of his campaign maneuvering, proceeds, but doesn’t think he has a chance in hell of winning, especially when he has visions of him being assassinated once sworn in. Through the advice of his older brother, Mitch (Bernie Mac), whom Mays picks as his running mate, he starts speaking out his mind on the harsh realities of life, which unexpectedly results in a higher percentage of votes in his favor. This catches the attention of the smarmy vice president Brian Lewis (Nick Searcy), who intends to take the office, and feels he deserves it simply because he’s Sharon Stone’s cousin. One of the funniest touches is Lewis’ repeated slogan, “God bless America…and no place else.”

Head of State garners its many big laughs by both spoofing politics and not taking itself too seriously. I particularly found a sequence of campaign ads for both Mays and the vice president riotously funny. One ad insists that Mays in the white house will resemble an Independence Day-like outcome, and then Mays fires back with an ad showing the VP getting strong support from a KKK klansman and Osama Bin Laden. Another funny joke is when Mays’ campaign managers supply him with his very own prostitute, which is part of a new technique of recruiting “superwhores” in a military-like fashion to sleep with selected candidates.

By blending a level of honesty and much needed zaniness, Rock has created a howling funny political spoof. The honesty comes from Rock’s talent to speak his mind, which fits well into his character in the movie. Head of State has got a strong vote from me for a true, sharp, no holds barred laughfest.

Video ****

Chris Rock made quite a confident directorial debut with this film, and he should be equally proud of how grand it looks in this release from Dreamworks. Consistently sharp in its picture and alive with strong use of colors, not to mention a surprisingly strong level of detail, the anamorphic transfer of Head of State illustrates that Dreamworks is always on top of the DVD game when it comes to terrific looking presentations.

Audio ***

First off, let me just say that I loved the fact that soulful rapper Nate Dogg was used as the movie’s musical narrator. He’s one of my all time favorite artists in the genre, and his unbeatable flow in the music bits is indeed the high mark of this nice 5.1 mix. Overall, this is a good use of sound for a movie that is heavy on words, though the use of many hip-hop tracks provided by the likes of Nelly and Jay Z make for a good lively presentation. A good enough essential sound quality, indeed.

Features ***

Though not loaded to the max, there are some nice extras here worth mentioning. There’s a solid commentary by Chris Rock which I feel is one of the best commentaries of the year. Rock manages to blend in bits of humor alongside insight of his first directing experience. Also featured is a documentary titled “Road to The White House: The Making of Head of State”, several deleted scenes, a picture gallery, and couple of bonus trailers.

Summary:

Head of State is the perfect showcase for Chris Rock, one of our most strong and inventive comedic talents. Rock’s writing and directing, in addition to a wonderful supporting cast help to make this a prime candidate for a political spoof knockout.